The Speculist: Stupid Populations


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Stupid Populations

Nope, I don't think this proves that the French are hopeless scientific illiterates:

The video should be self-explanatory, but I'll point out that the question is (approximately) "Which object orbits the earth?" And the choices are: the moon, the sun, Mars, Venus.

Come on. More than 2/5s of the audience got the answer right!

BTW, I'm not (just) being snarky. This doesn't prove that the French are stupid any more than Jay Walking or an opinion poll showing that 1 in 5 Americans think that the sun orbits the earth proves that Americans are stupid. There are profound and depressing examples of human ignorance to be found all over the planet. (Even Europe!) But the simple fact is, as often repeated here, people are getting smarter.

Yep. Even Americans.

You see a lot of hand-wringing about how the US, driven by religious fundamentalism, is becoming increasingly scientifically illiterate. I wonder. We're shocked when we see that half of Americans don't believe in evolution, or that 20% of us are as clueless about how the solar system is set up as 56% of that French game-show audience. But the pertinent question is, what would those same polls have shown 25, 50, 100 years ago? And what will they show 25, 50, 100 years from now?

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Well, Phil, you are obvious quite knowledgable about all those religious fundamentalists out there and their efforts to stomp out scientific literacy. Certainly, if they succeed it might be the end of life as we know it.

So I'm wondering -- which ones of those religious nutjob groups are teaching that Venus, Mars, and the Sun orbit the earth?

And can you give a reference for that?

Narniaman --

C.S. Lewis, one of my favorite authors, was a big advocate of careful reading. For example, if he read the following passage...

You see a lot of hand-wringing about how the US, driven by religious fundamentalism, is becoming increasingly scientifically illiterate.

... I doubt that he would have just assumed that the writer was one of those doing the hand-wringing. Of course, if the writer is not one of those doing any hand-wringing, then asking him to account for and justify all the hand-wringing is...well...let's just say it's not terribly careful reading and leave it at that.

Karl --

Do you think idiots such as the one you linked have any real influence? I'd be frightened to think they do, but I kind of doubt it.

It was pretty clear to me, Phil, what you were trying to say. I was just logging in to explain it to him.

But anyway, I live in the Netherlands, in a tech city, surrounded by college grads (some with Masters), and I still have to correct their science at times.

Some people blame the public education system (and I do think its an outdated relic of the industrial age), but in general, I think it's a problem that reverses "the wisdom of the crowd."

Ask a crowd of people to solve a math problem, and they'll be surprisingly accurate. Ask each individual in the crowd to solve the math problem, and the aggregate will be abominable.

We rely on specialists to do our work for us, and we listen to them. Ask that same french crowd to do a math problem or who wrote the three musketeers, and you might get some crazy responses. But the people who are wrong about what orbits the earth might be right about literature or history, because they specialized differently.

In short, I always thought that people took those surveys BECAUSE its a trick (and comedians know how this work, so they often use it to make people look silly), and gave them an excuse to handwring. If America, or the west, was really collapsing into dumb, you'd see it in our economies. But in general, innovation continues to rise, often innovation that comes from common people.

So I see nothing to worry about.

Come on now. There has to be something wrong with people who are so incurious about the very thing that maintains the existence of every living thing on this here gosh darn planet.

Pardon the digression, but the Slovene techno (I suppose is the predominant genre) group Laibach, on their rather fab album "Kapital," has a song titled "Hymn To The Black Sun" in which they manage to rap the following heliocentric lines, among others:

92 million miles to be explicit
8 light minutes if you're payin' a visit

I'm the big daddy in this here system
my turn to burn so keep on listenin'
i spout light when all around is dark
yo! choice get hot or spite your remark
(pardon possible mistakes in transcription)

the refrains:
into the sun
everything dies in (f)light

Personally, I find the song more appealing than audio recordings of solar radiation, frequencies lowered to fall within human hearing.

Both Jeopardy! and the NYT crosswords puzzles, my two metrics, have been dumbed down.

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