We barely read science news — and when we do, it’s because it fell into our laps. And that can be costly.
We don’t have this down to a science.
Americans are ignorant about what’s going on in the scientific world, be it new health studies, climate change news or information on genetically modified foods. Indeed, about two-thirds of Americans admit that they read, watch or listen to science news only a few times a month or less — and most tend to get it by happenstance rather than because they seek it out intentionally, according to a Pew Research Center study of more than 4,000 adults released this week.
While no single reason stands out as to why Americans don’t read science news, Jeffrey Gottfried, senior researcher at Pew Research Center, says that, “the two most common reasons cited are because respondents are too busy (46% say this was a major or minor reason) and because the sources they regularly get news from do not cover science a lot (43%).”
Whatever the reasons we don’t read about science, one thing is clear: We’re confused about science basics. Here are five major scientific things that Americans don’t know — but should.
That the Earth orbits the sun — and not vice versa
Americans can’t get their heads around this one: One in four thinks that the sun orbits the Earth rather than vice versa. This isn’t the only outer space issue that confuses us: Just 39% of Americans said that the following statement was true, according to data from the National Science Foundation: “The universe began with a huge explosion.”
That humans evolved from animals
Data from the National Science Foundation reveals that just 48% of us say they think it’s true that “human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.” This may be because many schools don’t teach students about evolution.
The difference between astrology and astronomy
Your horoscope couldn’t predict this. One in five Americans confuse
astrology — which Merriam Webster defines as “the divination of the supposed influences of the stars and planets on human affairs and terrestrial events by their positions and aspects” — with astronomy. Astronomy is defined as “the study of objects and matter outside the earth’s atmosphere and of their physical and chemical properties.”
That water boils at a lower temperature at high altitudes
Only about 1 in 3 Americans knew that this statement was true, according to data from the Pew Research Center. Meanwhile, 26% thought water would boil at a higher temperature in higher altitude and 39% thought it boiled at the same temperature. As the research firm explains: “Water will boil at about 202 degrees in Denver, due to the lower air pressure at such high elevations.” And in case you’re wondering, altitude also impacts cooking.
What antibiotics can’t treat
Nearly half of Americans think that antibiotics are effective in treating viruses like colds and flus, according to the Pew Research Center. This, despite the fact that the FDA clearly states on its website, “WARNING: Antibiotics don’t work for viruses like colds and the flu,” nothing that they “don’t fight viruses, they fight bacteria.”
Not knowing scientific facts like these isn’t just potentially embarrassing – it can be costly. For example, “using antibiotics for viruses can put you at risk of getting a bacterial infection that is resistant to antibiotic treatment,” the FDA notes — leading to high healthcare costs. And not understanding cooking temperatures at higher altitudes can lead to unsafe food preparation and illness, which also can result in health care costs.
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