Americans respect science – they just don’t understand any of it

According to a survey from the Pew Research Center, 84 percent of Americans think science has had a mostly positive effect on society, and scientists are held in high regard – more so than any other professions apart from the military and teaching, and way ahead of the clergy (or journalists, for that matter).

But along with all this adulation comes a shaky grasp of science – fewer than half those surveyed knew that electrons are smaller than atoms, for example.

And there’s a widespread refusal to believe ideas that are generally accepted by the scientific community. While 84 percent of scientists agree that the Earth is getting warmer because of human activity, for example, more than half the general public thinks we’ve had no effect at all…

But if you want the prime example of the public’s fundamental disagreement with basic scientific tenets, then – you’ve guessed it – it’s the question of human and animal origins.

According to the survey, an extraordinary 68 percent of Americans don’t believe in evolution through natural selection – a state of affairs that is surely unparalleled elsewhere in the western world. Less surprisingly, the figure is just 13 percent for scientists, who understand that the word “theory” in Darwin’s Theory of Evolution doesn’t actually mean “random guess”.

As you might expect, this situation creates a touch of cognitive dissonance. Over a third of the public said that science sometimes conflicted with their religious beliefs. This doesn’t put them off, mind you, as a full 63 percent of these creationists reckoned that scientists contributed “a lot” to society’s wellbeing. So perhaps there’s hope…

We could try making the creationists breed fruit flies, and actually see evolution in action. But a better way might be to make them put their money where their mouth is. Presumably, if you don’t believe in evolution, you don’t believe in newly-emergent strains of flu or other diseases, either. Just deny the latest vaccines to the creationists, and they’ll weed themselves out in the next hundred years or so. By natural selection.

I would suggest the same for the climate “skeptics”. The quote-marks are necessary. They abuse the historic meaning of the word – especially in science.

Let’s park them along the global riparian boundaries and deny them the seawalls many can afford. Especially those with funding contributed by the Oil Patch Boys. Another hundred years or so, they’ll be too busy treading water to reproduce.

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