Thursday, May 24, 2012

Meanwhile, Over in the Garden State...

Apparently, half of those polled in New Jersey don't accept evolution. According to Shannon Mullen of MyCentralJersey:
Support for the idea that humans evolved from lower forms of life stands at 51 percent in New Jersey, according to a new Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll. (The Courier News is a sister paper of the The Press.) Forty-two percent said they didn’t believe in evolution, while 7 percent said they don’t know.
This further argues that the pathetic state of science education in this country knows no bounds. It, along with general scientific knowledge, is probably this bad everywhere. This information came in the context of a poll on a larger set of questions and the results can be found here. The question asked was:

I’m going to read a list of items. Please tell me whether or not you personally believe in each one. Just a quick yes or no:
The theory of evolution – that humans evolved from lower life forms
The results were predictable in other ways: For those who had a high school education or less, 37% answered yes, some college 52% and at least a college education 69%, while Democrats polled ten points higher than Republicans (I thought this would be a larger margin). Oddly, men answered yes eight percentage points higher than women, 55& to 47%. The authors make no comment as to why this last point might be.

As a comparative note, they point out:
New Jerseyans with a Darwinian bent may despair at the 42% of their fellow Garden State residents who cannot countenance the idea that humans may have evolved from lower life forms. However, they may take solace from the fact that recent polls in other places put that number significantly higher. For instance, large majorities of Republican primary voters in Southern states do not believe in evolution – 60% in Alabama and 66% in Mississippi, according to a March 2012 PPP Poll. However, that number was a much lower 43% among Illinois Republicans. Here in New Jersey, 49% of Republicans do not believe in evolution, compared to 41% of independents and 39% of Democrats.
42% is still way too high.

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  1. As a Science Teacher for 23 years, I really have a problem with this part of your post:

    This further argues that the pathetic state of science education in this country knows no bounds.

    Granted I have a Biology degree first (after mentoring future teachers, many that have a science degree vs a science ed degree have a much greater grasp of scientific detail and processes.) But, I can tell you that teaching evolution and climate change is exasperating. Kids at upper grades come in with some deep beliefs from their parents that it is impossible to shake, even if you deal with misconceptions and show evidence. I think it also has a lot to do with a country that is close minded and not open minded.

    I routinely get my students to think differently but on some issues it is tough to enact change on most.

  2. Louise, I am sorry that it is such an exasperating experience. I know, here in the south, the teachers are always fighting with the school boards who are responding to religiously-based complaints about evolution. I have had some say that it is just easier not to teach it. That is unfortunate and the whole problem feeds on itself.

  3. I think you do what others do and that is to bash teachers in general. I don't ignore issues. I hit them head on. And when I am frustrated by not being able to show and change misconceptions despite evidence (climate change and evolution), I have actually blogged about it. My blog post that discussed what students bring to school from their family, faith, and others that have already shaped what they believe, I was called into a superiors office and admonished. A post I just read discusses the same frustration:

    Maybe I am overly sensitive but I am tired of being judged a bad teacher no matter what I do and know matter what topic I teach it seems to be as if I am swimming upstream. Adam Savage from Mythbusters has a great quote: "Facts are facts no matter what you believe." The problem is, you may not change a belief no matter what the facts are.

  4. I am not. I am bashing school boards and state legislatures, which often leave school teachers in an untenable position. I know many wonderful teachers who are very good at what they do. Many times, they are put in a position of having to listen to the complaints from all sides and, in several cases, I know that some have said it is just easier not to be controversial.

    I think that the intrusion into the teaching process by people that have no idea what they are talking about has hurt the process. I think about people like Don McLeroy, in Texas, who famously said "I disagree with these experts. Someone has got to stand up to experts." He and that school board did untold damage.

  5. I thought the poll was interesting in the usual respects. Amusing that Democrats seem to be significantly more likely to believe in astrology than Republicans - I may have to tease some people about that. I wish they would include a question that would be an indicator of general scientific ignorance independent of religious indoctrination. The Wikipedia article on geocentrism claims that polls have shown that 20% of Americans think the sun goes around the earth. I would guess that that question has little connection to religion at this point in time and might be a good indicator of knowing essentially nothing about science as opposed to having been indoctrinated to a particular (anti-evolution) viewpoint. Ignorance and bias are related but not actually the same thing and both contribute to the situation.

  6. 20% think that the sun goes around the earth????? That is amazing! I agree that there is correlation but not causation in ignorance and bias. But I bet the relationship is statistically significant.