A recent poll conducted by the Associated Press-GfK sought to test public perception, knowledge, and confidence in certain scientific principles which are whole-heartedly accepted as fact by the scientific community – things such as smoking’s impact on cancer rates, the plausibility of evolution, and the age of the Earth. Unfortunately, the results of the poll show that many Americans are still science-deniers, despite living in an age of high science and technological advancement.
The poll was conducted by phoning over 1,000 people and asking them their confidence in certain statements, such as, “Smoking causes cancer,” with the scale ranging from “Extremely Confident” to “Not at all Confident.”
When it comes to people’s perceptions of whether smoking causes cancer, that a mental illness is a medical condition, that genetic codes determine who we are, that overusing antibiotics can be detrimental, that a supreme being guided the creation of the Earth, or that vaccines are safe, the majority of Americans feel very confident in asserting those statements are true.
When it comes to more controversial and less-tangible ideas, however, the confidence of the American public beings to wane.
For instance, only 55 percent of people are either extremely confident or somewhat confident that life on Earth evolved through natural selection, while only 60 percent feel confident in affirming the statement that Earth is 4.5 billion years old.
The most surprising finding from the poll, however, is the fact that only 46 percent of Americans feel confident in the statement that “The universe began 13.8 billion years ago with a big bang,” with 52 percent of respondents stating they are not confident or not at all confident that the statement is true.
AP-GfK poll: People accept science on smoking, genetics, but not warming, evolution, esp. Big Bang; US Nobelists sad; http://t.co/uUrgz8hIbA
— seth borenstein (@borenbears) April 21, 2014
The data has many in the scientific community upset and sad. “It is enormously distressing that science, which is our most powerful means for gaining insight into the world, insight into truth, is so mistrusted by so many people,” declared Brian Greene, a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University.
Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, believes that this poll strongly displays the “the iron triangle of science, religion and politics.”
In other words, religion and politics have perhaps too much influence on how the public perceives and processes scientific data.
“When you are putting up facts against faith, facts can’t argue against faith. It makes sense now that science would have made no headway because faith is untestable,” stated professor Robert Lefkowitz of Duke University, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize for biochemistry.
The poll found that people who identified themselves as Democrats were more likely to feel confident in the scientific statements than their Republican counterparts and that those who regularly attended church services or who identified as evangelist were less likely to affirm the statements as true.
“Science ignorance is pervasive in our society, and these attitudes are reinforced when some of our leaders are openly antagonistic to established facts,” said 2013 Nobel Prize in medicine winner Randy Schekman.
Half of Americans are doubtful about the Big Bang theory, yet I just worked with Jim Parsons.
— Steve Martin (@SteveMartinToGo) April 21, 2014
Unfortunately for the scientific community, the poll results are consistent with the 2014 National Science Foundation’s “Science and Engineering Indicators” report which revealed that only 48 percent of people believed that life evolved over time and a paltry 39 percent believe that the formation of the universe started with a “huge explosion.”
Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that the 2014 NSF report found that “The public’s level of factual knowledge about science has not changed much over the past two decades.”
With the plethora of huge scientific advances and discoveries that have occurred over the past two decades, including the recent discovery of big bang waves essentially proving the big bang theory, it is quite disheartening that the American public is equally as knowledgable now as Americans in 1994.