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‘These data provide a fresh snapshot of what the public knows about … scientific developments’ AFP

A snapshot of Americans grasp of science has revealed favourable results. A team from the Pew Research Center – a thinktank based in Washington DC – wanted to test the country's science know-how with related issues becoming "ever-more tied to policy questions".

The thinktank found that, when given 12 multiple-choice questions, Americans on average gave more correct than incorrect answers. The median was eight correct answers, with slightly over a quarter providing 10 or 11 correct answers.

For example 86% of the population were able to correctly identify the core as the hottest part of the Earth but only a third could identify the property of a sound wave which determines how loud a sound is.

Lead author Cary Funk, an associate director of research at the Pew Research Center, said: "Science encompasses a vast array of fields and information. These data provide a fresh snapshot of what the [American] public knows about some new and some older scientific developments -- a mixture of textbook principles covered in K-12 education and topics discussed in the news."

Men scored stronger than women on the test scoring an average of 8.6 out of 12 compared to 7.3. It also found that adults with some form of higher education were twice as likely to score 8 compared to those with high school diplomas (82% compared to 40%).

There was additionally a different average across different racial groups. White people scored an average of 8.4, Hispanics an average of 7.1 and black people 5.9. However, the report, states that "As with gender differences, differences by race and ethnicity could tie to a number of factors, including differences in areas of study at the high school, college and postgraduate levels and other factors. To the extent that science knowledge, especially on issues in the news and emerging scientific developments, is learned in connection with adult life activities, the long-standing under-representation of blacks and Hispanics in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce could also be a contributing factor."

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