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NSF Science Poll: Americans compartmentalize Science

Newser and USA Today badly misreport the poll

So a headline like “1 in 4 Americans doesn’t know Earth circles sun” is a kind of headline designed to attract a certain crowd. You know the ones I’m talking about: the ones who think they’re just better than you, but at the same time are so insecure about it they’re itching for a debate, after which victory will be claimed regardless of events.

Naturally, a careful study of the poll doesn’t come up with the results the Smug Set is assuming. But to see that requires a curious mind, and not the kind of rigid ideological reflexes that the Smug Set is full of.

The actual story here is one revealed on Page 7-4 of the NSF release:

A survey experiment showed that 48% of respondents said they thought it was true that “human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals,” but 72% gave this response when the same statement was prefaced by “according to the theory of evolution.” Similarly, 39% of respondents said that “the universe began with a huge explosion,” but 60% gave this response when the statement was prefaced by “according to astronomers.”

Talking about burying the lede. It turns out that the polling isn’t at all revealing what kind of raw book knowledge that Americans possess. It was finding out what subset of Americans both knew the answers and believed them to be the true explanation of the world around them. The poll measured worldview, not just knowledge.

So we actually find that sold majorities know the answers to these questions, but many who know the answers reject a purely science-based explanation of the world. Sure, many Christians see no conflict between science and their beliefs. Others do, at least in some aspects. But this poll shows that they do know what they’re talking about. They just reject it anyway.

That explanation though doesn’t fit the storyline written in the press about Christians, and Americans in general. They’re supposed to be ignorant, so the headline must be written accordingly, so that incurious leftists can smile and nod, feeling good about themselves. Those insecure about themselves need that reinforcement, because what are they going to do? Question authority? Naaaah.

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