U.S. Has More Science Smarts - Sort Of
Saturday, February 17, 2007; 9:19 PM
SAN FRANCISCO -- People in the U.S. know more about basic science today than they did two decades ago, good news that researchers say is tempered by an unsettling growth in the belief in pseudoscience such as astrology and visits by extraterrestrial aliens.
In 1988 only about 10 percent knew enough about science to understand reports in major newspapers, a figure that grew to 28 percent by 2005, according to Jon D. Miller, a Michigan State University professor. He presented his findings Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The improvement largely reflects the requirement that all college students have at least some science courses, Miller said. This way, they can better keep up with new developments through the media.
A panel of researchers expressed concern that people are giving increasing credence to pseudoscience such as the visits of space aliens, lucky numbers and horoscopes.
In addition, these researchers noted an increase in college students who report they are "unsure" about creationism as compared with evolution.
More recent generations know more factual material about science, said Carol Susan Losh, an associate professor at Florida State University. But, she said, when it comes to pseudoscience, "the news is not good."
One problem, she said, is that pseudoscience can speak to the meaning of life in ways that science does not.
For example, for many women having a good life still depends on whom they marry, she said.
"What does astrology speak to? Love relationships," Losh said, noting that belief in horoscopes is much higher among women than men.
The disclosure that former first lady Nancy Reagan consulted an astrologer resulted in widespread derision in the media, but few younger people remember that episode today, she said.
Miller said most readers of horoscopes are women, contributing to the listing of "female" as a leading negative factor in science literacy. Women also tended to take fewer college science courses, he said.
Belief in abduction by space aliens is also on the rise, Losh said.