Science literacy is foundational in any society shaped by science and technology. Surveys of the U.S. general public by the National Science Foundation show an average score of less than 2/3 correct on a series of science knowledge questions, and fewer than half of the respondents show any significant understanding of the process of scientific inquiry. These measures are unchanged for two decades. At the University of Arizona, we have measured science knowledge and beliefs on scientific issues for 11,000 undergraduate students since 1989, using an instrument that overlaps with the NSF survey. This population of non-science majors is typical of ten million undergraduate students nationwide. There is a less than 10% gain in performance in the science knowledge score between the incoming freshmen and seniors who graduate having completed their requirement of three science classes. Variables such as the number of science courses and the level of pseudoscientific belief account for less than 10% of the variance in science knowledge scores. It is also clear in a related survey on where students get their information about science that the Internet is the dominant source, not the classroom, teacher, or textbook. This is the first study to track the evolution and progression of science literacy in the undergraduate population, and relate it to belief systems. If this situation is to be improved, scientists and policy makers need to decide what aspects of science knowledge and process are important for adults to know, and school and college science educators need to tailor their pedagogical approaches with those goals in mind.
|Keywords:||Science Literacy; Undergraduate Education, Knowledge, Belief Systems, Sources of Information, Pseudoscience|
University Distinguished Professor, Department of Astronomy, Tucson, Arizona, USA