One in Four Americans Believe the Sun Revolves Around the Earth…..Oh no!

A few weeks ago, Jerry Coyne posted a blog entry entitled, “Americans overwhelmingly support labelling foods that contain—wait for it—DNA!” It’s one of those blog entries where Coyne gets to posture and preen as if he is so much more smarter than those “dumb Americans.” Of course this is ironic given that Coyne, the biologist, actually wants to know “does flour have any DNA in it?” Yes Jerry, you will find DNA in flour.

Anyway, Coyne wrings his hands:

What does the complexity of government have to do with whether voters know what DNA is, and whether it’s dangerous, or whether the Earth orbits the Sun?

Ah yes, the Earth and the Sun. Over at the source behind Coyne’s blog entry, we find the following claim:

The public’s scientific knowledge isn’t much better. A 2012 National Science Foundation survey even found that about 25% of Americans don’t know that the Earth revolves around the sun rather than vice versa. Issues like food labeling bring together political and scientific knowledge, and it is not surprising that public opinion on these subjects is very poorly informed.

And the source for this claim about 1/4 Americans not knowing the Earth revolves around the sun takes us to discovery.com – a popular science site. The article was written by Ian O’Neill and is entitled, “1 in 4 Americans Don’t Know Earth Orbits the Sun. Yes, Really.

O’Neill tries to link this survey finding to religion by setting up context using the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham creationism debate. O’Neill writes:

And then, today, the National Science Foundation (NSF) delivered news of a pretty shocking poll result: around one in four Americans (yes, that’s 25 percent) are unaware that the Earth orbits the sun. Let’s repeat that: One in four Americans — that represents one quarter of the population — when asked probably the most basic question in science (except, perhaps, “Is the Earth flat?” Hint: No.), got the answer incorrect. Suddenly I realized why the Nye vs. Ham debate was so popular.

Okay, I get it. 1/4 Americans think the Sun revolves around the Earth because of religion. Right?

O’Neill even ends his blog entry with the typical warning that warms the Heart of Gnu:

For a nation that prides itself on science and discovery, it will be a tragedy on a national scale if fundamental science is undercut by superstition and the bad policies it inspires.

One problem. A three second glance at the data will completely destroy his attempt to smear religion.

Let’s go to the NSF survey. Go to this page of tables. Scroll down and find table 7-8. Click on the HTML tag and the data should pop up.

Oh no! They are right. If you look in the first column, only 74% of Americans know the Earth goes around the Sun. 1 in 4 Americans Don’t Know Earth Orbits the Sun. Yes, Really.

But if we are going to blame religion for this, it would be nice if we had a negative control. Y’know, like similar survey data from the European Union. After all, we have been told again and again the EU is much less religious and far more “pro-science” that we unsophisticated Americans are. Surely, they would do much better on this question.

What’s that you say? We have those data?! Holy smokes, we do! Just 2 columns over to the right. And what’s this? While 74% of Americans know the Earth goes around the Sun, only 66% of Europeans know the Earth goes around the Sun.

1 in 4 Americans Don’t Know Earth Orbits the Sun. Yes, Really.

1 in 3 Europeans Don’t Know Earth Orbits the Sun. Yes, Really.

With these data, it becomes clear the “religion as cause” explanation advocated by atheists and secularists has been falsified. Europeans, who are supposed to be much less religious than Americans, are even more likely to accept Geocentrism.

What’s most disturbing is Ian O’Neill. He is supposed to be a scientist writing for a science magazine. What is his excuse for completely ignoring the EU data?

In science, if a control result undercuts or falsifies your hypothesis, you do NOT ignore the control results in order to promote your hypothesis. Such behavior is the antithesis of science.

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4 Responses to One in Four Americans Believe the Sun Revolves Around the Earth…..Oh no!

  1. Allallt says:

    Here’s one that will interest you: I don’t agree with the studies that find “X number of people believe (wrong scientific claim)”. I was asked to complete a survey on the street a few years back that was full of scientific claims all written out in long hand. One of them was something like this:
    Which of the following sentences best describes Earth’s position in the solar system:
    (a) The sun orbits the earth
    (b) The earth orbits the sun
    (c) Both the sun and the earth orbit a central point.

    But the person who read these out to me read them out fast and pressured me into a speedy answer. That means I will have been attempting to answer these questions semantically, not from my understanding. What that means is that I will have been trying to select the answer that has the sounds that are the most familiar, instead of trying to articulate my understanding. The actual answer is (c), although that seems absurd when you’re thinking about it under pressure. (It is C, the sun and Earth orbit the centre of their mass. This point is inside the sun, but not the centre of the sun. The sun orbits a non-central point inside itself. That’s why timelapses of the sun show it appear to wobble.) The truth is, I don’t know which answer I gave, because I was being pressured.

    Another question was about the ratio of oxygen:hydrogen in water. Again, I was under pressure and robbed of the time to recall if it was 2:1 or 1:2 (obviously the answer is 1:2, but the oxygen and hydrogen have been reversed from the order we normally see it in and the question doesn’t specify if they want their answer by mass or by number of particles. Under pressure, this can be confusing). I know the answer to both these questions, and did at the time, but I reckon I got them wrong because of the environment I was asked and because of the way they were presented.
    ===============
    As I often find on your blog, you are beating away a criticism that hasn’t been made in the context you’ve presented. The discovery.com article doesn’t blame religion for a lack of science understanding, at best it uses lack of science understanding to explain the popularity of a religiously coloured debate. The way you present it is completely backwards from what is actually presented.
    Jerry Coyne isn’t even talking about religion. He’s talking about scientific literacy and it’s implication in GMO labelling (the correct information can be misleading if you’re scientifically illiterate, which many are in the context of GMO safety and DNA). Although, I will admit that interstellar knowledge is probably a bad indicator of biological knowledge.

    I feel I have to over-explain myself on your blog. So, here I go. I am not saying that no atheists and no secularists have ever blamed lack of scientific understanding on a contentment with religious answers, I am saying that claim is not presented in the articles you’re using.
    I would even go so far as to say that one cannot investigate whether national religiosity correlates with scientific understanding, because religiosity is so much higher in poorer countries where we can expect science education to be poor.
    However, I will say that I have encountered religious people who have patently religious motives for dismissing scientific theories (while accepting ones that don’t challenge their beliefs).
    If you want to talk about the accusation that religion is a barrier to scientific understanding, bring forward the blogs and sources of that accusation. Then, we can discuss the points made there. Here, you are forcing an unrelated discussion to fit the structure of the accusation. It doesn’t work.

  2. Michael says:

    As I often find on your blog, you are beating away a criticism that hasn’t been made in the context you’ve presented. The discovery.com article doesn’t blame religion for a lack of science understanding, at best it uses lack of science understanding to explain the popularity of a religiously coloured debate. The way you present it is completely backwards from what is actually presented.

    Those are your perceptions. I see it differently. The author begins his article with a discussion of creationism and ends it with a warning about creationism in schools and superstition getting in the way of scientific knowledge. I see a clear, implicit connection as a function of the way the author frames the whole article.

    But let’s say I am wrong, as I am not infallible. Even as you admit, there are atheists and secularists who have blamed lack of scientific understanding on a contentment with religious answers. As such, readers of this blog may one day run into such an atheist on the internet or in real life. Because of reading this blog entry, they are now prepared. If an atheist scoffs about 1/4 Americans thinking the Sun revolves around the Earth, and tries to imply religion is to blame, the reader of this blog can easily deflate such a claim by pointing out 1/3 Europeans think the Sun revolves around the Earth.

  3. Peter says:

    Whatever the explanation for this supposed 1/4 of Americans who have a pre-Copernican understanding of the solar system, Mr. Coyne is exploiting a statistical artifact to make a sensation claim which is actually false. Lies, damned lies, statistics etc.

  4. Allallt says:

    Peter – what’s the lie? What claim is Coyne making that is untrue?

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