Only 21% of Adults Answer All Three Questions Correctly

The level of science literacy in the United States is kind of a scary thing. In 2009, the California Academy of Sciences commissioned a poll to find out what kind of general science knowledge American adults have. Only 21% answered all three questions correctly. Can you do any better?

1. How long does it take for the Earth to go around the sun?
(53% of adults know this)

2. Did the earliest humans live at the same time as dinosaurs?
(59% of adults know this)

3. Roughly what percentage of the Earth’s surface is covered with water?
(47% of adults know this)

To see the answers (if you need them) and to read more about the study, visit the California Academy of Sciences.

About Brian Dunning

Science writer Brian Dunning is the host and producer of Skeptoid.
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5 Responses to Only 21% of Adults Answer All Three Questions Correctly

  1. SirSurfer says:

    Geez Louise! You’ve got to be joking? No wonder the world is going to hell.

    How can it be that virtually everyone in America has access to orders of magnitude of more information now than 40 years ago, yet the overall intelligence of the American population continues to go DOWN? These are pretty BASIC pieces of knowledge that any 10 year old knew 40 years ago…

    • ChumbleSpuzz says:

      Unfortunately, it is probably the case that most people are using such resources for other means, like looking up who was voted out on “Dancing With the Stars”, or porn. It seems that for the majority of the population, if such knowledge doesn’t affect their life, they do not bother to retain such simple facts past their required exams in school, assuming they’ve had a proper education to begin with. How does knowing that it takes the earth 24 hours to revolve around the sun put food on the table? Just kidding :) Unfortunately, this is the attitude that many people have. If it doesn’t affect them directly, the simply do not care. Consider the tautology that half of all people are below average intelligence. Given what I consider my level of intelligence, this is a frightening thought.

      • rocketsalad says:

        I’m sure it was a mistake and you know the earth takes roughly 24h to revolve on its axis and roughly 365.25 days to orbit the sun.

        Sorry, just had to.

    • Erik Harris says:

      The survey wasn’t of ten-year-olds, though. It was of adults, all of which have forgotten some portion of their childhood education. It’s commonly assumed that people are getting stupider, because of the prevalence of surveys like this, showing just how ignorant the “average American” really is. As I understand it, though, what little long-term trending data there is doesn’t support the idea that we’re actually getting dumber about science, but that we’re getting a better understanding of just how dumb most of us are about it. 40 years ago, if you posed three fundamental science questions to adults that “any 10 year old knew 40 years ago,” you’d probably get results similar to the ones above. The exact questions necessary to get those answers might vary over time (e.g. the one about humans and dinosaurs could fluctuate with the popularity of fundamentalist Christianity), but I think the average adult has always been pretty ignorant.

      • Dr. Nociceptor says:

        That explains the show Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader with Jeff Foxworthy… apparently some adults don’t even realize that the moon is not a planet!

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