[Infographic] A reminder as to how far the rationality waterline can climb (at least, for the US).

post by Logos01 · 2011-11-22T12:44:02.772Z · score: 10 (18 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 47 comments

 

Encountered at: https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/03/20/click-and-weep/scientific-literacy/

47 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Friendly-HI · 2011-11-22T18:00:42.838Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

If 50% don't realize that plants are made up of cells with genes then how low does the criteria for "scientific literacy" have to be in order to describe 30% of the population? Not being pants-on-head retarded seems to suffice. If actual literacy was measured that way it'd be good enough to recognize a letter now and then.

comment by FAWS · 2011-11-22T15:06:27.879Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder what the exact question on astrology was. Is 41% the fraction that believes that horoscopes are real, that doesn't know the difference between astrology and astronomy, that believes that astrologers use scientific methods, or some combination?

comment by thomblake · 2011-11-23T04:51:16.072Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I was thinking the same thing. "10% of Americans think Astrology is the name for Astronomy, 10% of Americans believe horoscopes are real, 10% of Americans believe that Astrologers use something like science in their studies and so 'not at all scientific' is inaccurate, and 10% of the respondents were joking" seems much less implausible.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-11-22T13:01:31.888Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

The main optimistic item shown here is that scientific literacy in the US is trending up.

comment by RobertLumley · 2011-11-22T16:15:38.510Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'd like to see the raw results of the survey, especially the questions asked. (But not so much so that I am actually going to look up their sources.) I have a hard time believing that 33% of US adults actually don't think that the earth goes around the sun once a year. What seems most likely to me is that these questions were part of a lengthy survey, and were cherry picked because of their responses. Alternatively, a lengthy survey may have led to false responses. Some of these are less surprising. But I'd estimate with only 0.2 probability that at least 33% of US adults actually disagree that the earth goes around the sun once a year. I might assign probability of 0.15 that at least 49% of US adults actually believe that tomatoes don't have genes.

comment by thomblake · 2011-11-23T04:48:13.708Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I have a hard time believing that 33% of US adults actually don't think that the earth goes around the sun once a year.

I would assume most of them think the Earth goes around the Sun once per day. Note that the story taught in school often goes: "We used to think the Sun went around the Earth, but after Galileo we know that the Earth goes around the Sun". But the first statement was an explanation for the appearance of the sun going across the sky, so one would assume the second was as well.

comment by HonoreDB · 2011-11-22T16:31:09.423Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Source as .doc

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-11-26T13:20:14.644Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

That .doc is actually quite a bit more optimistic than the graphic alone would imply:

Viewed in terms of individual countries, American adults rank second to only Sweden among the 34 countries from which current data area available, using the same metric and the same cutting point.

The authors conclude that,

On balance, European adults are not better informed about science than American adults... And these results suggest that the admittedly strong secondary school science programs in Europe are not sufficient to match the impact of general education requirement for college and university students in the United States in producing scientifically literate adults.

comment by dlthomas · 2011-12-05T18:03:22.938Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That .doc is actually quite a bit more optimistic than the graphic alone would imply:

Viewed in terms of individual countries, American adults rank second to only Sweden among the 34 countries from which current data area available, using the same metric and the same cutting point.

Optimistic?

comment by BillyOblivion · 2011-11-26T11:35:22.328Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know what is more interesting, the actual paper, or the spin that the referenced graphic puts on it.

From the paper: / Last year, a cross-national comparison of the acceptance of biological evolution by adults in 34 countries found that Americans ranked 33rd in their acceptance of evolution, followed only by Turkey (Miller, Scott & Okamoto, 2006). Can there be any doubt that Americans are among the least scientifically literate adults in any modern industrial nation? /

And

/* Turning to the principal focus of this analysis, twice as many American adults qualify as scientifically literate as do adults in the European Union (see Figure 2). Using a common metric, 28% of American adults and 14% of European Union adults scored 70 or higher on the Index of Civic Scientific Literacy and may be termed scientifically literate. This result is consistent with earlier analyses of the European Union (then 15 members), Canada, Japan, and the U.S. in the early 1990’s (Miller, Pardo & Niwa, 1997). Japan ranked last among the four national groups compared in the earlier analysis1.

Viewed in terms of individual countries, American adults rank second to only Sweden among the 34 countries from which current data area available, using the same metric and the same cutting point. In 2005, approximately 35% of Swedish adults qualified as civic scientifically literate, significantly higher than the 28% of American adults who qualified as scientifically literate (see Figure 2). On the same metric, 24% of Dutch adults and 22% of adults in Norway, Finland, and Denmark were classified as civic scientific literate. In any ranking of this kind, differences of two or three percentage points do not reflect statistically significant differences. */

So it's just long term fallout from the Snopes thing.

I also disagree with one of the opening statements. / One of the few issues that the leaders of the European Union and the United States agree on without reservation is that scientific literacy is a good thing and that having more of it would benefit our respective societies. /

I think they say this in public, but either they're lying through their teeth, or they're idiots. Stupidity is more likely than malice in most cases, but I think that having a scientifically literate and numerate (especially stats) society is MUCH harder to rule.

Edited to add: The funny thing is that I seem to have a better grasp on "science" and scientific issues across a broad range than most of the engineers I currently work with (they smoke the shit out of me in their field(s), don't get me wrong), and the last science class I had was in...1983? High school physics. My degree is in Fine Arts, so I didn't even have to take a real math class.

Which is to say this isn't about teaching science. It's about inculcating the desire for the ability to understand the world around us. You do that, and give someone basic math and they'll be fine.

Those who work in the sciences might need more, but wouldn't it be nice if the reporter covering the sciences understood what 20,181 TeraWatt hours really meant? Or why this was funny: http://funcorner.eu/ill-have-some-h2o-too/

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2011-12-05T16:14:16.315Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Which Snopes thing?

Quotes are achieved with a > at the beginning of a line. It's all in the help link at the bottom corner of the edit field.

comment by BillyOblivion · 2011-12-10T04:49:30.679Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Fawk.

s/snopes/Scopes/

The Scopes monkey trail.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-11-22T17:51:13.229Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you!

-- Having just read that, I find that the source was perhaps somewhat more political than I would have liked. I don't necessarily disagree with any of its statements on the political contribution/detrement to scientific literacy, but it sets off one of my internal "Thar be dragons here!" warning bells.

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2011-12-07T22:03:57.994Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Another possibility for the bad responses on the earth and sun question is misreading. I have misread that or similar questions several times, but if you asked me to draw a sketch of the solar system I know perfectly well what goes around what.

comment by FAWS · 2011-11-22T17:06:55.312Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's probably more that they don't really understand the subject and thought that's what they were supposed to answer than any positive belief either way. Maybe some think the earth goes around the sun once a day.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-11-22T17:56:59.967Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe some think the earth goes around the sun once a day.

I recall reading, a while back, a published poll that had results similar to what you describe. I can't find it now, but I did find a number of references that seem to lead back to this Gallup poll which stated (in 1999) that 79% of Americans knew which object (the Sun or the Earth) orbited the other. (Apparently, this compared favorably to the example it gave of Germany, where only 74% got that 'right'.)

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2011-11-22T14:22:06.929Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

1.) Woohoo! Excellent news!

2.) Scientific literacy isn't really the same thing as rationality.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-11-22T15:14:26.519Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

1.) Woohoo! Excellent news!

A few hours later, I find I remain physically pained when attempting to come to terms with the notion that a person could express the belief that only genetically modified tomatoes have genes. The very ability to formulate the statement requires knowledge that contradicts the belief.

2.) Scientific literacy isn't really the same thing as rationality.

Certainly not. But -- would you agree that scientific literacy and cultivated rationality are highly correlated?

comment by listic · 2011-11-23T23:17:08.144Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I find I remain physically pained when attempting to come to terms with the notion that a person could express the belief that only genetically modified tomatoes have genes.

A person with no prior knowledge of the subject might read "genetically modified" as "modified to contain genes"

comment by Logos01 · 2011-11-23T23:55:45.958Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That would require them to understand what a "gene" was in order to know that "genetically modified" is intelligible as "contains genes". That in turn requires a working definition knowledge of what a "gene" is. Feh.

comment by BillyOblivion · 2011-11-26T11:15:29.408Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You don't have to have a working definition of a "gene" to answer that question, you have to have the ability to pick an answer out of a lineup. This is called "standardized testing" and is what a lot of western countries base their educational system on.

They aren't writing a paper where they have to explain it, they're responding to a question, so it's very easy for someone who has no knowledge, experience or understanding of science or biology to intuitively assume that "genetically modified tomato" means "tomato modified WITH genes" as opposed to tomato with MODIFIED genes. For someone whose best career option is working a broom, or filing forms at the sheriffs office, genes are a very closed and uninteresting book, but they are also humans, humans who don't like to say "I don't know what that is".

comment by Logos01 · 2011-11-26T12:49:31.373Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

experience or understanding of science or biology to intuitively assume that "genetically modified tomato" means "tomato modified WITH genes" as opposed to tomato with MODIFIED genes.

You have to know that "genetically" refers to "genes" which means you need to know of the terms. Knowing of the terms means knowing basically what they are. At the elementary school level they are described as "the building blocks of life" or "why Tommy has brown hair but Susy has blue eyes." Yadda yadda.

comment by BillyOblivion · 2011-12-10T04:59:45.662Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If I ask you what time it is in Katmandu you'd have to know three things:

1) Where you were in terms of timezone offset from UTC. 2) Where Katmandu was in terms of timezone offset from UTC. 3) What time it was in either UTC or "here".

Well, alternatively you could happen to have the second timezone on your watch set for Katmandu, which would imply those.

If you did not have those you would say "I have no idea" or ask for information about Katmandu or you'd sit down and think about where Katmandu was and work a timezone offset from that to get a rough idea. Because you think about problems and want to be correct because correctness is useful.

If you asked a random middle of the curve type who didn't like saying "I don't know", they would (and you see this all the time on "man on the street" interviews) make shit up. There are many people in this world who do not care about correctness for the sake of understanding the world, they care about correctness for signaling purposes. They would rather be thought smart than actually be smart as sometimes if you're smart you know things that everyone else things aren't true (see the history of "bacteria causes ulcers" for example).

So no, you do NOT have to know what those words mean to answer the question. You have to know what they mean to understand the question and to answer it correctly.

"Even a blind pig finds a truffle once and a while".

Edited to add:

As to learning it in elementary school--for most of the people in this country that was a LONG time ago and those lessons just weren't relevant to their lives, so they forgot them.

comment by tut · 2011-11-27T17:27:25.898Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The very ability to formulate the statement requires knowledge that contradicts the belief.

Human beings are a lot closer relatives of parrots than of the kind of reasoner that would have a problem with making a statement just because they lacked the knowledge necessary for formulating it.

comment by tkadlubo · 2011-11-23T08:59:18.381Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

A few hours later, I find I remain physically pained when attempting to come to terms with the notion that a person could express the belief that only genetically modified tomatoes have genes. The very ability to formulate the statement requires knowledge that contradicts the belief.

I do not find this belief paradoxical. Folk science GMO in one sentence goes like this: you grab a normal tomato, and you add some genes to it, that make this tomato bigger, or less prone to mold, or something. One does not need to comprehend high-school genetics to get this stub of an idea.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-11-23T09:31:35.460Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

High-school genetics? This sort of stuff was elementary-school level where I grew up. |sigh|

comment by lessdazed · 2011-11-22T17:57:03.289Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The very ability to formulate the statement requires knowledge that contradicts the belief.

Assume "genetically modified" is the teacher's password to them.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-11-22T18:01:24.994Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, I'm sure it's very similar to "chemicals". But even allowing for that I find it painful. Mostly because, while I find your statement likely, I strongly wish it weren't true. Furthermore, despite living in a rather conservative state (Arizona) I have never encountered a person with such a paucity of understanding. For this to comprise, then, roughly half of the nation?

... Eh. I should know better, I suppose; just the other day I ran into someone who told me in absolute terms that no only didn't she know what a counterfactual was, she had absolutely no interest in learning about them and went on to assert that it was morally wrong of me to attempt to inform her. Such willful ignorance, then, is what's "painful" to me.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-11-23T01:56:51.397Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Furthermore, despite living in a rather conservative state (Arizona) I have never encountered a person with such a paucity of understanding. For this to comprise, then, roughly half of the nation?

Chances are you met one and didn't know it. My father once asked my (high-school-aged) neighbors how long ago the dinosaurs lived. They said they didn't know but guessed about ten thousand years ago. I was surprised, because I knew it was millions of years ago although I didn't remember exactly how many millions it was (but vaguely remembered the number 65 million in connection with dinosaurs).

comment by Xachariah · 2011-11-23T08:14:53.007Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

To admit my ignorance, I only know the particular '65 million years' number because of Jurassic Park.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-11-23T02:33:37.489Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

When I say "encountered" I include the presence of contextual clues, or topical requirements. Talking about GMOs for example, or why there isn't just one "flu shot", etc.

They said they didn't know but guessed about ten thousand years ago.

Evolution and its history are intentionally avoided by teachers in public schools: only about 28% of teachers actually teach to the NRC's recommendations.

Genetics on the other hand... has made its way into television commercials. So this confounds me.

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2011-12-07T22:19:52.581Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

and went on to assert that it was morally wrong of me to attempt to inform her.

This is the part that surprises me. What argument(s) did she give that telling her what a counterfactual was is wrong? Was it just something along the lines of "that's a useless fact and you're wasting my time", or did she actually think that it would be immoral to know that at all?

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-11-23T15:18:56.045Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Certainly not. But -- would you agree that scientific literacy and cultivated rationality are highly correlated?

Not nearly as highly correlated as one would hope.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-11-23T15:40:21.522Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There is a hard limit to how far you can go as a rationalist without scientific literacy; and there is similarly a hard limit to scientific literacy without cultivated rationality.

But they do not share a 1:1 correlation, certainly.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-11-23T19:32:28.829Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

There is a hard limit to how far you can go as a rationalist without scientific literacy; and there is similarly a hard limit to scientific literacy without cultivated rationality.

This is vague and sounds false. I don't know where you're getting the idea of a hard limit - as Desrtopa noted, plenty of scientists more studied than you or I believe in God. I especially don't know what you mean by 'far'.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-11-24T06:36:19.911Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

This is vague and sounds false.

Vague only because I didn't state it in mathematical precision. For good reason: it's not a statement of precise measurement. As to the 'apparent' falseness... as I illustrate further below: quite frankly, you ought to know better. If this comes across as condescending, well... read the below.

as Desrtopa noted, plenty of scientists more studied than you or I believe in God.

Certainly. And nothing I said gainsaid that. But I know that those self-same scientists do not also believe in witchcraft that can let you fly around on broomsticks. Or that God will smite the unbelievers if they live as Holy Warriors of God. Their scientific literacy has informed them too deeply about how the world works and as a result forced their religiosity to conform to large extents to what they do know. While they may not -- indeed, generally do not place direct instrumental emphasis on explicitly becoming more-rational, and fall into many very common traps... there is a large body of philosophy behind the concept we call "scientific literacy"; inclusive of standards such as the principle of parsimony, the Copernican Principle, the differentiation between anecdotes and evidence, etc., etc.. -- and all of these necessarily have an impact on the degree to which a person is rational or irrational. (There are deviations individually from this pattern, certainly. But to emphasize for example the fact that scientists can be religious ignores entirely the effect, on aggregate, that scientific literacy has on religiosity ).

Conversely; if you don't know the necessary science you will be unable to fully mature to the limits of what humans can achieve in terms of cultivated rationality.

"Sounds false". I'm disappointed that your comment has been upvoted here. This should have been self-evident to cursory examination: the direct correlation between cognitive science, behavioral economics, and the direct instrumental value of the increased efficacy of greater scientific literacy (to better achieve the terminal value of being better able to distinguish between true and false; to "be less wrong"), etc., etc.. -- they all are fundamntally requisite if one intends to deeply persue achieving greater rationality in their life and person. To "go further as a rationalist" -- to "Be Stronger".

I especially don't know what you mean by 'far'.

Please spare us references to inferential gaps when I say -- you should have.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-11-24T07:18:19.670Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

terminal value of being better able to distinguish between true and false; to "be less wrong"

I don't think that's quite a terminal value.

Regardless, modern science aims to minimize false positives. Strong ability in that is hard to compare to weaker abilities to adeptly manage the ratio of false positive to false negative errors, calculating expected value of information, account for cognitive biases, etc.

Two people, each having one of the ability sets I described above, would perform differently in different scenarios, with variables being environment and values. It may be possible to objectively compute values for each describable skill set. Assuming one can and there are hard limits, as no person will approach either hard limit, and even if they could approach one hard limit the best thing to do would probably be to reach a Pareto optimum far from the limit it could nearly reach, I say this is vague and sounds true but not important.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-11-24T14:23:06.113Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think that's quite a terminal value.

(I have that as somewhat of a terminal value, as far as I can tell.)

comment by Logos01 · 2011-11-24T07:40:41.756Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think that's quite a terminal value.

Then you and I do not share terminal values. I value being "right" because it is "right". I disvalue being "wrong" because it is wrong. These are practically tautological. :)

I say this is vague and sounds true but not important.

Well... there is significance in judging the ability of an arbitrary individual from a given culture to achieve excellence in either quality by examining the availability of the other, especially when attempting to compare the 'greatness' of their achievements. But that has less to do with the hardness of the limits and more to do with the strength of correlation. (With the caveat that the correlations are only statistical; individuals can and do violate those correlations quite frequently -- a testament to how skilled human beings are at being inherently contradictory.)

The body of knowledge that today comprises cognitive science and behavioral economics is something our predecessors of a century ago did not have. I should expect, as a result of this -- should the information be widely disseminated (with fidelity) over time, to see something equivalent to the Flynn Effect in terms of what Eliezer calls the "sanity waterline". (With people like Cialdini and Ariely newly entering into the arena of the 'grand marketplace of ideas', we might see a superior result to that goal than the folks at Snopes have achieved with their individual/piecemeal approach.)

comment by shinoteki · 2011-11-26T12:23:39.620Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Correspondence of beliefs to reality being desirable is no closer to being a tautology than financial institutes being on the side of rivers, undercover spies digging tunnels in the ground, or spectacles being drinking vessels.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-11-26T12:51:36.192Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Correspondence of beliefs to reality being desirable is no closer to being a tautology

If I had said something that meant something loosely correlated to this, your point would be valid. Instead, what I said was: "I value being right because it is right; I disvalue being wrong because it is wrong."

comment by hairyfigment · 2011-11-24T07:07:35.338Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Your first paragraph here seems completely unnecessary. Your next paragraph walks back the claim I thought you were making about "cultivated" rationality. If you just used the wrong word before, that seems understandable, but you shouldn't get snippy when people can't read your mind.

The paragraph beginning "Sounds false" seems so ungrammatical that I can't tell what it means other than 'Science good.'

comment by Logos01 · 2011-11-24T07:26:20.208Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Your first paragraph here seems completely unnecessary.

I disagree. Strongly. LW-ers in general need to recall that a linguistically phrased statement is not "more wrong" by nature than a mathematically phrased one -- especially when the topic itself does not lend itself to such a thing. (Though not a direct correlation this maps well to the notions of Fake Utility Functions.)

Made up numbers are worse than 'vague' -- they are counter-productive: they "prime" the reader (and the writer) towards specific subsets of the available space.

If you just used the wrong word before, that seems understandable,

It wasn't the wrong word at all. It was exactly the right word. All I did was flush it out further. That would be why I re-used the same exact term: "you will be unable to fully mature to the limits of what humans can achieve in terms of cultivated rationality.".

but you shouldn't get snippy when people can't read your mind.

... Is it really so hard to not follow such a simple request? "Please spare us references to inferential gaps"

This wasn't a question of mind reading but rather of not being profoundly ignorant as to the topic upon which truth/false judgments were being exercised. I explained this in depth and expressed my disappointment with this current state of affairs.

The paragraph beginning "Sounds false" seems so ungrammatical

... It's called the conversational tone. You use it, in writing, when you are holding a conversation.

that I can't tell what it means other than 'Science good.'

I have no reaction to this other than contempt. If I had meant to say "science good" I would have said it. I was quoting the guy I was responding to. Just why, pray tell, is this such a difficult concept to grasp? (I will point out that my emotional reactions here indicate to me that you had no serious intention of conveying anything with this statement other than to take a petty swing at someone whose tone you disliked because it was mean, and "mean is bad". This site would do a great deal better if people would grow out of White Knighting.)

comment by lessdazed · 2011-11-24T08:09:12.263Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

All I did was flush it out further.

flesh it out

comment by adamisom · 2012-01-16T18:22:20.236Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The most frightening thing isn't that 14% of Americans think sound travels faster than light. The most frightening thing is that if you flipped a coin to decide whether to believe that statement or its converse, you'd land on 'speed: sound > light' half the time, in which case zero evidence impinges on the decision... which means you could just as easily have randomly believed 'speed: light > sound'.

Thus, at least 28% of Americans have no clue.

It gets worse when, rather than being a binary choice, there are several "choices" of alternative beliefs.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-16T18:37:57.432Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure this quite follows, as it isn't clear that the 14% were guessing randomly... they might have been operating from some systematically wrong model. But I agree that it's likely.

To be fair, I also often wonder whether the people who take these tests are just picking random answers because they aren't at all invested in the test. Back when I was taking neuropsych evaluations after my stroke, there were a number of questions intended to detect malingering; I would like to believe that tests like those cited here have similar "checksum" questions built in and that reported results would take that into account, but in fact I don't.

comment by adamisom · 2012-01-16T22:56:40.870Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah - good point. I did realize that people probably do operate from a systematically wrong model---why not? But I figured that there are probably at least as many operating from a systematically wrong model that just happens to give them the right answer. I figured that if you were just guessing, with minimal information or reasoning (as opposed to none), it would more likely be biased towards the right answer.