Assessing American’s Science Knowledge

ByABC News
July 25, 2000, 4:10 PM

July 26 -- So here we are, zipping down the Information Superhighway, vastly expanding our knowledge of the wondrous world of science.

But guess what the National Science Foundation has found? We dont seem to know a whole lot more now than we did back in the horse and buggy days. The Internet was supposed to have changed that through cheap and rapid exposure to all things science, but it turns out that fewer than one out of six Americans can even define the Internet in their own words.

Knowledge Slightly Up

It isnt a case of lack of interest. The foundations most recent survey of public interest and understanding of science found that nine out of 10 Americans are interested in science, but only 17 percent think they are well informed.

Most Americans know a little, but not a lot, about science and technology, according to the report, Science & Engineering Indicators 2000.

Thats not to say there hasnt been any improvement at all. Five years ago, only 11 percent of Americans could define the Internet. Now, thats up to 16 percent. Today, a few more people are able to tell you what a molecule is, and the number of people who think they understand DNA is up slightly, probably thanks to O.J. Simpson.

The report, released last month, has brought forth the usual hand-wringing by scientists, educators, and the media, mostly blaming each other for the dismal understanding the public seems to have of basic scientific issues. Underlying the concern is the fact that if the unwashed masses dont understand science and technology, the country is not going to produce the workforce it needs to fuel the economic machine that drives U.S. prosperity.

Thats a legitimate concern, and according to the report most people understand that technological and scientific prowess is what keeps the U.S. ahead of the global pack.

Similarly, a recent Gallup poll commissioned by the Bayer Corp. found that Americans are huge science buffs. The poll found that nearly all Americans (93 percent) believe it is important for the U.S. to maintain its current global leadership in science and technology. The same percentage recognizes that science contributed to the economic success this country enjoyed in the last century.