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Public Opinion Polls as Reasons to Teach Creationism & ID

Ever since I've gotten caught up in reading a lot of the debate between science and ID/creationism, I've noticed that many people try to use public opinion polls to say that ID or creationism should be taught alongside evolution in the science classroom. And ever since the Dover trial decision, I've read quite a few more articles using that argument, so I thought that I'd briefly address it.

Trying to base science curricula off of the public's understanding of science is just plain silly. Yes, we live in a democracy, so people should have a say in things that go on in our country. Unfortunately, most people don't have a good understanding of science. In 2001, the National Science Foundation conducted a Survey of Public Attitudes Toward and Understanding of Science and Technology. A summary of some of the findings are copied below.

United States Europe
The center of the Earth is very hot. (True) 80 88
All radioactivity is man-made. (False) 76 53
The oxygen we breathe comes from plants. (True) 87 80
It is the father's gene which decides whether the baby is a boy or a girl. 65 48
Lasers work by focusing sound waves. (False) 45 35
Electrons are smaller than atoms. (True) 48 41
Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria. (False) 51 40
The continents on which we live have been moving their location for millions of years and will continue to move in the future. (True) 79 82
Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals. (True) 53 69
The earliest humans lived at the same time as the dinosaurs. (False) 48 59
Radioactive milk can be made safe by boiling it. (False) 65 64
Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth? (Earth around the Sun) 75 67
How long does it take for the Earth to go around the Sun? (one year) 54 56
SOURCES: National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics, Survey of Public Attitudes Toward and Understanding of Science and Technology, 2001; and European Commission, Eurobarometer 55.2 survey and standard report, Europeans, Science and Technology, December 2001.

Science & Engineering Indicators – 2004

Just look at some of those results, and not just the ones about evolution. They clearly show that a lot of people really don't know much about science. I mean, one in four people thought that the Sun goes around the Earth, half of the people surveyed didn't realize that electrons were smaller than atoms, and nearly half of the people didn't know that it takes a year for the Earth to go around the Sun. If this is American's understanding of basic, simple scientific facts, why should we rely on public opinion polls when it comes to teaching ID alongside evolution, or creationism in science at all, even ignoring the separation of church and state. School curricula should be determined by experts in the fields.

Really, if there's one thing that these public opinion polls tell us, it's where the weaknesses are in our science education system that need to be addressed. If our education system's so bad off that only half of Americans accept evolution, we obviously need to do a better job of teaching it (and apparently a whole bunch of other areas, as well).

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