Are Americans bad at science?  If so, are they worse than anywhere else?   We know the answer to one of those questions.  A new national survey commissioned by the California Academy of Sciences and conducted by Harris Interactive  says that the U.S. public is unable to pass even a basic scientific literacy test. 

The good news; U.S. adults do believe that scientific research and education are important. About 4 in 5 adults think science education is "absolutely essential" or "very important" to the U.S. healthcare system (86%), the U.S. global reputation (79%), and the U.S. economy (77%). 

People are starting to realize that innovation and industry - not making cheap mortgages a government mandated right - are what propels successful economies.    That means people have to understand science.

The big issues are global health and energy these days so if people are going to make smart policy decisions, they need to understand what is going on.   Since not everyone reads yet, we'll have to be patient while they catch up.   

To get some more science literacy, check out   To test your already existing scientific literacy, take this Richard Carrier literacy test.   If you're already confident in your knowledge, here's what other people do not know:

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

Knowledge about some key scientific issues is also low. Despite the fact that access to fresh water is likely to be one of the most pressing environmental issues over the coming years, less than 1% of U.S. adults know what percent of the planet's water is fresh (the correct answer is 3%). Nearly half didn't even hazard a guess. Additionally, 40% of U.S. adults say they are "not at all knowledgeable" about sustainability. 

"There has never been a greater need for investment in scientific research and education," said Academy Executive Director Dr. Gregory Farrington. "Many of the most pressing issues of our time—from global climate change to resource management and disease—can only be addressed with the help of science."

This survey was conducted by telephone within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of the California Academy of Sciences between December 17 and December 21, 2008 among 1,002 adults ages 18+.


(*) The approximately correct answer range for this question was defined as anything between 65% and 75%. Only 15% of respondents answered this question with the exactly correct answer of 70%.