Saturday, June 09, 2007

post-ptolemaic social science begins at home

From the 2006 GSS, probability of someone with my mother's basic demographic characteristics indicating that she doesn't know the Earth goes around the Sun: 50% (N=26). (previous post here)

"Hey, Mom, does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth?"
"Jeremy, the Earth goes around the Sun."

Not one freaking second of hestiation or inkling of uncertainty, either, I'll have you know.

Probability of someone with my father's basic demographic characteristics indicating that he doesn't know the Earth goes around the sun: 31% (N=19)

"Ask Dad when he gets home."
"You need to take care of that cold!"
"Pretend like you don't know. 'Eldon, I was sitting here and wondering to myself, does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth? Do you know?'"
"Jeremy, he's going to think I'm stupid."
"You can tell him afterward that I put you up to it."

E-mail later from my mother:
hey j, dad knew the correct
I am tempted to offer a reward to the first person who provides a full and honest account of asking a noninstitutionalized, nondemented adult this question and getting 'Sun goes around the Earth' as a sincere reply. Apparently such people are all around us--including, according to Omar, more than 1 in 8 women with graduate degrees--so an exemplar in one's midst shouldn't be hard to find.


Kim said...

I tried this on Quinn (age 5). Both astronomy questions right, no guessing.

He did answer yes to the "is astrology is a science" question, because "it's like paleontology and geology and sociology and biology."

(Will the IRB come after me now?)

AK said...

Just curious, does the GSS have history and civics questions? Or science questions that affect people's everyday lives or are part of current political debates (say, a question about fossil fuels or carbon dioxide)? It is shocking that so many people don't seem to know about the workings of the solar system (though I suspect a lot of people just freeze up and say stupid stuff during surveys - I know I do), but I wouldn't use it as a stand-in for scientific literacy. And I think we have to consider the social significance of not knowing that the earth orbits the sun. Is it bad for democracy? Does it lead to illness? Maybe, in a really indirect way, if it is actually correlated with scientific literacy in general. But I would be way more worried for all of us if as many people didn't know about, say, the Vietnam War or the Civil Rights Movement.

gabriel said...


the great bulk of the science module is about global warming and other political/scientific controversies. most of the questions are along the lines of "how much do you trust elite group X on issue Y"

jeremy said...

AK: I agree it would be great if they had history or social events items as well.