It's not just Europeans who have difficulty understanding science

May 3, 2002

Brussels, 02 May 2002

The results of the US' National science foundation's biennial report show that US citizens are not, like their European counterparts, highly science literate.

Americans show only a slight improvement in science literacy and most (70 per cent) do not understand the process of scientific research, according to the survey. In a marked difference to Europeans, Americans also show a high and increasing level of belief in 'pseudoscience'. This is manifested in high rates of positive responses to questions aimed at determining whether people believed in extrasensory perception and psychic powers (60 per cent did) as well as whether objects in the sky were space vehicles from other civilisations (30 per cent did).

Basic scientific knowledge has shown a slight improvement. When asked how long it took the Earth to revolve around the Sun, 54 per cent gave the correct answer of one year, an improvement on two years ago when more than half got the answer wrong.

Americans' concerns on the ethics issue of scientific research were clearly divided, with 40 per cent feeling that scientific advances in the field would be beneficial, while 33 per cent thought they would not. Research on animals also divided the respondents. While few had any problems with research on mice, 53 per cent disagreed with using dogs or chimpanzees, but 44 per cent saw no problem with this.

Other findings highlighted the growing number of foreign-born scientists operating at all levels in the USA, with the highest level being 45 per cent in engineering. The federal research priorities also appear to have shifted, with a 50 per cent increase in federal funding for life sciences research, while physical sciences have seen a 25 per cent cut.

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CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2001

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