Science and Math: How about the Adults?

As I reported in the last post, American students do better in science and math than reported.  But I was still unsettled on the subject so checked out a few more stats.  Let's look past 4th grade, 8th grade and 10th grade.  How about the adults?  How are we doing in science and math? 

Adults' Science Performance

Climate Change:
(all data from 2010) 
  • 83% of Britons acknowledge the importance of climate change.  
  • 76% of Western Europeans believe there are human causes.  
  • In East Asia (the same region where science students dominate test results), 83% of adults recognize human causes for climate change.
  • Only 52% of Americans believe climate change is a serious problem.
  • Less than half (48%) of Americans believe there are human causes for climate change.
  • 43% of Americans believe the media exaggerates the problem of climate change.
  • Follow this link to the Gallup Poll to see where American adults rank on this issue:  dead last in the world.

  • Only 40% of Americans believe in the widely accepted biological theory of evolution.
  • In an international poll of adults in 23 countries, the US ranked 22nd (South Africa was last).
  • Those nations with the highest percentage believing in evolution were Sweden (68%), Germany (65%), China (64%), Belgium (61%) and Japan (60%).
Other Scientific Issues
  • 31% of American adults believe in Astrology, a concept that is based on maps placing the earth at the center of the universe with the sun and other planets revolving around earth.
  • 47% of Americans believe homosexuality is a choice, in spite of extensive (and well publicized) research demonstrating fundamental differences in the brain, beginning long before children become sexual beings.

Adults' Math Performance

Personal Finance

Lottery Participation
  • 20% of American adults are frequent buyers of lottery tickets.  With a 1 in 195,000,000 chance of winning big, we'd might as well flush those bucks and save the paper.

While approximately half of Americans buy at least one lottery ticket at some point, the vast majority of tickets are purchased by about 20 percent of the population. These high-frequency players tend to be poor and uneducated, which is why critics refer to lotteries as a regressive tax. (In a 2006 survey, 30 percent of people without a high school degree said that playing the lottery was a wealth-building strategy.) On average, households that make less than $12,400 a year spend 5 percent of their income on lotteries—a source of hope for just a few bucks a throw. (Wired Magazine, January 31, 2011)

 Math Confidence
  • A Kent University Study reported that 50% of American adults have "math anxiety". Don't worry though.  The good researchers at Oxford showed that electrical charges to our brains will improve our math ability.  ZAP!
“People are very happy to say they don’t like math,” said Sian L. Beilock, a University of Chicago psychology professor and the author of Choke, a 2010 book on brain responses to performance pressure. “No one walks around bragging that they can’t read, but it’s perfectly socially acceptable to say you don’t like math.”
It should be no surprise that on any international measure of adult science awareness, the same countries that perform well on science and math tests in school show science and math intelligence into adulthood.  Another recent study showed that Asian Americans are the most environmentally aware and concerned group in the US.  Because of their familiarity with Biology?

I guess there are several ways to look at this.  One would be that our students are hampered in their math and science education by their parents' attitudes toward the subjects.  Another would be that we've always done a lousy job teaching science and math; hence the performance of older generations.  Still another might be to campaign for more math and science in schools, with a schedule more like the rest of the world's (See International Test Comparisons:  What's Real, What's Not).  I'd hate to go down that road and lose the comprehensive high school model we (barely) still have but perhaps a tad more science makes some sense.  As a social scientist, I'm not sure we can get citizens thinking rationally about the environment, medical care or even social justice without more grounding in basic science.