Sunday, August 13, 2006

Science Under Attack: Evolution

If you weren't already depressed about the recent ideological attacks on Science, check out this table from an article by Miller JD, Scott EC, Okamoto S (2006) Public acceptance of evolution. Science 313:765-766.

This is a compilation of international survey results regarding people's attitude toward evolution. As you may have noticed, we barely edged out Turkey to stay out of last place.

As reported on the Pharyngula blog: "

There was more to this study than just asking whether a person agreed with the statement that "Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals." They also collected other data on age, gender, education, genetic literacy, religious belief, attitude toward life, attitude toward science and technology, belief in science and technology, reservations about science and technology, and political ideology, and carried out a statistical analysis to determine the relative contribution of these variables to ignorance about evolution." I don't think anyone will be surprised at the number one reason cited in the report.

"The total effect of fundamentalist religious beliefs on attitude toward evolution (using a standardized metric) was nearly twice as much in the United States as in the nine European countries (path coefficients of -0.42 and -0.24, respectively), which indicates that individuals who hold a strong belief in a personal God and who pray frequently were significantly less likely to view evolution as probably or definitely true than adults with less conservative religious views."
This is consistent with the results of the following: "Seventy percent of evangelical Christians believe that living things have always existed in their current form, compared with 32% of mainline Protestants and 31% of Catholics, according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press."

Reason number 2?
"Second, the evolution issue has been politicized and incorporated into the current partisan division in the United States in a manner never seen in Europe or Japan. In the second half of the 20th century, the conservative wing of the Republican Party has adopted creationism as a part of a platform designed to consolidate their support in southern and Midwestern states—the "red" states. In the 1990s, the state Republican platforms in seven states included explicit demands for the teaching of "creation science". There is no major political party in Europe or Japan that uses opposition to evolution as a part of its political platform."
Thankfully, there is hope, as one result of the survey showed that even minimal educational efforts have a strong impact. But we clearly have a lot of work to do.

"It appears that many of these adults have adopted a human exceptionalism perspective. Elements of this perspective can be seen in the way that many adults try to integrate modern genetics into their understanding of life. For example, only a third of American adults agree that more than half of human genes are identical to those of mice and only 38% of adults recognize that humans have more than half of their genes in common with chimpanzees. In other studies, fewer than half of American adults can provide a minimal definition of DNA. Thus, it is not surprising that nearly half of the respondents in 2005 were not sure about the proportion of human genes that overlap with mice or chimpanzees."
The final note in the study, though, is a rather depressing one that mirrors my earlier post on "Political Science."

"The politicization of science in the name of religion and political partisanship is not new to the United States, but transformation of traditional geographically and economically based political parties into religiously oriented ideological coalitions marks the beginning of a new era for science policy. The broad public acceptance of the benefits of science and technology in the second half of the 20th century allowed science to develop a nonpartisan identification that largely protected it from overt partisanship. That era appears to have closed."

So let's get out there and educate. Fight the ignorance!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The fact that one of our two established political parties exploits the general ignorance of the populace to remain in office typifies the worst in American culture.

Shame on you, Republicans, for routing science while claiming to represent "the Truth" and supporting your position in power by continually mismanaging and underfunding the public education that the majority of your constituency enjoys!