Friday, April 26, 2013

Are you a science whiz? This quiz suggests Americans are better than they think

(Image from Smithsonian.com)
I can almost hear the TV host shouting, “Is that your final answer?”

Okay, maybe it’s no high-stakes game show but a new Smithsonian magazine/Pew Research Center survey that quizzes Americans on their science literacy and their thoughts about education in the U.S. awards us with some insights about our perceptions of the nation’s standing in science and technology.

The survey results are published in the May issue of Smithsonian Magazine. You can take the 13 question science and technology knowledge quiz on their website to see how well you compare with the representative sample of 1006 American adults who were polled in March.

I won’t divulge any answers, but overall the participants did a passable job on the quiz portion of the survey, answering 9 out of 13 questions correctly about half the time (I’m happy to report that I scored a perfect 13). Men did slightly better than women though women scored equal or better on health related questions. On average, the 65+ age group had the lowest scores while the youngest group (18-29) scored as well as the 30-49 and 50-64 age groups.

With all the dismay over the sad decline of science education in the U.S., I was a bit surprised that it was our senior population that had the worst scores and not those under 30. Are the younger folk actually doing better than we think they are? The other portion of the survey results says “yes”. As Smithsonian writer Terence Monmaney reports:
Asked how 15-year-olds in the United States compare with those in other developed nations on a standardized science test ... respondents tended to rank American youths at the bottom of the pack. In fact, they place in the middle, scoring 17th out of the 34 developed nations in 2009, the most recent year for which results are available.
Hurray! We’re not as bad as we imagined! That’s great, right? Well, we may not be in the cellar but 17th out of 34 doesn’t breed a lot of confidence in our science and technology future. The silver lining here is that the overly dim view of our kids’ performance shows that Americans are very aware that science education should be improved. And when asked, “From kindergarten through 12th grade, what one subject should schools emphasize more than they do now”, 45% of those surveyed picked a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subject. Pew research director Scott Keeter says this response:
reflects a perception that the U.S. is at risk in those areas, that American superiority might be slipping away and needs to be addressed.
This need for high quality science education is certainly not lost on CIRM. Training the next generation of California stem cell scientists is an important focus of the agency through our Creativity Awards and Bridges to Stem Cell Research programs. By supporting high school, undergraduate, and graduate students in their pursuit of stem cell science, we hope they’ll carry on our grantees’ world-class research to develop stem cell-based therapies that are safe, effective and routine.

T.D.

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