Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Science Literacy Falling

By Ian Lowe

It’s little wonder that climate change science is misunderstood when nearly one-third of Australians believe that the Earth takes only a day to orbit the Sun.

Ian Lowe is Emeritus Professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

The results of the latest survey on science literacy in Australia make depressing reading. The percentage of adults who know that the Earth takes a year to go round the Sun has fallen further since the previous survey 3 years ago. Only about 60% of Australians know that basic fact, while 30% think it takes 1 day for us to orbit the Sun.

It is unsurprising that younger people and graduates are more likely to know how long it takes to go around the Sun than older people and those with only school education – although it is the sort of thing that is in everybody’s basic science at school. In my age group, those over 65, only 46% knew the right answer, with an incredible 41% opting for 1 day.

The most worrying feature of the survey was that the greatest drop in the percentage getting the right answer was in the youngest age group, 18 to 24. Whereas 74% knew the answer in 2010, only 63% did this year.

The responses to other questions are no more reassuring. Only 9% know that the share of the Earth’s water that is fresh is about 3%, compared with 13% getting that right 3 years ago. Most people either over-estimate the amount of fresh water (50%) or just don’t know (25%).

About 70% of Australians think that evolution is still occurring, but about 10% don’t think it is, while about 10% say they don’t believe in evolution and about 10% say that they...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.