Questions From the National Science Quiz

The National Science Foundation recently released results of their science test that showed Americans sadly lacking in basic science knowledge. We cringed at the fact that one in four Americans did not know that the Earth revolves around the sun. So how hard is the test? When I saw the opportunity to sample it, I thought, “How fun!” But there are only ten questions, and to Neatorama readers they would be so extremely simple you would all get ten out of ten right.

However, under each answer, we find out how the average Americans polled scored on each, which is sobering. More than half the respondents did not know what lasers are made of. The answers also have some neat explanations in the form of videos. And the comments are what you’d expect -half argue about two questions on religious grounds, and the other half are pedantic science nerds who argue about the exact wording of a question. See those questions at PolicyMic. -via Digg

(Image credit: Minute Physics)

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There exist plenty of horribly worded questions that get higher (or lower) scores by changing the wording that pop up in such studies. Although in this case, it looks rather neutrally worded, even making it kind of difficult to confuse revolving with rotating. And I've unfortunately seen several examples that more explicitly ask people to describe, using a marker and pad of paper, the paths the Earth, Moon and Sun make relative to each other, and seeing college graduates fail.

Sometimes people know better if you give slight pushes or reminders without pushing them right toward the answer ("What was the deal with Galileo?"). But stuff gets weird in these topics, and studies showed that you could ask a person a physics question, then ask the person, "What would a smart person say the answer is?," and they would change their answer giving something more likely to be correct. Although some effort to use that to help teach physics, in my personal involuntary experience (coursework I had no control over as a TA), it backfires and adds confusion or an insulting tone to homework.
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I'm pretty sure plenty of scientists would have no problem referring to the big bang as an explosion, as it does involve the rapid expansion of matter and energy in an expanding volume. You could even go as far as to call it a detonation or use the narrow definition of explosion in the case of high explosives, because the expansion was supersonic.
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I went down the rabbit hole and found a comparison of the original survey to previous years. While I'm no statistician, a cursory glance seems fairly-consistent numbers with some increases and a strange drop in the '80s over the Big Bang theory.

I'd also suggest looking at table 7-8 (pp.23) in the PDF that PolicyMic links before the inevitable "'Merricans are idiots!" shaming comment comes around.
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