Bad Astronomy has a post on science coverage by the media, science education (all in the USA) and how it relates to the sorry state of scientific understanding displayed by many citizens. The research and articles cover the US situation only, but I'm afraid it applies to much of Western Europe as well; although perhaps just a little less so.

The post links to an study (PDF here) that illustrates just how bad the situation is. Some striking things that popped up: in many media outlets, pseudo-science hogwash gets the same attention as real science (e.g. in evolution vs intelligent design series, or in the many "docufiction" series produced by Hollywood for news channels). Not surprising that people start believing idiotic theories if they hear about them on tv every day.

The discussion on Bad Astronomy was sparked by the terrible results of a national survey commissioned by the California Academy of Sciences (phone survey of 1,000 people in December 2008). The lowdown:

  • Only 53% of adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.

  • Only 59% of adults know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time.

  • Only 47% of adults can roughly approximate the percent of the Earth's surface that is covered with water. (the survey allowed answers between 65-75% as okay)

  • Only 21% of adults answered all three questions correctly.

Quite stunning to see this. 41% of Americans think humans and dinosaurs coexisted? Oh my.

As I noted above, I would think, or hope rather, that the situation here in Belgium is better. Then again, on second thoughts, it might not be. We don't get pelted with conservative Christian ID propaganda, and science is not considered as "evil" or "anti-religious" by most of our religious tendencies. On the other hand, evolution is vehemently disavowed by our large Muslim minority, and recent debates on evolution have shown that that is likely to become a problem in the future.

I can only try to stimulate my own kids to question their environment, to probe it in an inquisitive and rational manner. So far that seems to be working quite well, as evidenced by my four-year-old's constant questions that I find myself almost unable to answer... How is steel made? How does electricity work? What am I made of? Why is electricity dangerous? Where do the photos go once we've printed them, are they in the computer still?
And so on. Challenging, for sure, but also good fun trying to come up with answers that are understandable at his age, but not too "bad science-ish".

Via - I first got this off Jay Lake's link salad.