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U.K. View Is 'Sobering'

BRISTOL, ENGLAND—A survey of adults in Britain has found that: Three-quarters believe astrology is scientific, but only a bare majority believe ecology is; 33 percent of the population believe that penicillin attacks viruses; 20 percent see carbon dioxide as the chief cause of acid rain; 37 percent believe proteins “provide most of the energy needs of the human body,” and 19 percent chose vitamins. Only 36 percent chose carbohydrates. Those sobering findings are pa

By | December 15, 1986

BRISTOL, ENGLAND—A survey of adults in Britain has found that:

  • Three-quarters believe astrology is scientific, but only a bare majority believe ecology is;
  • 33 percent of the population believe that penicillin attacks viruses;
  • 20 percent see carbon dioxide as the chief cause of acid rain;
  • 37 percent believe proteins “provide most of the energy needs of the human body,” and 19 percent chose vitamins. Only 36 percent chose carbohydrates.

Those sobering findings are part of a survey of 1,033 people at 80 locations throughout Britain. The study was reported by Arthur Lucas of King's College, London, during the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held here in September.

The study, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, was conducted in June in conjunction with Market & Opinion Research International. The representative sample of persons aged 18 and older were asked about their support of science as well as their understanding of basic facts and concepts.

About 65 percent of those surveyed said they were fairly or very interested in science news—almost as many as those interested in medical matters and slightly more than the number who mentioned sports. But, Lucas warned, “we are dependent on the respondents' own definitions of what is scientific.”

“In addition to their belief in astrology as scientific,” he said, “30 percent viewed cookery that way. And more people—28 percent—de scribed theology as scientific than did those—24 percent—who de scribed sociology in those terms.”

Updated Information

In addition to probing people's general knowledge of science, the survey found a close correlation between interest in science news and knowledge obtained through formal education. This finding under-scores the recent plea by the Royal Society that scientists need to use the media more effectively.

“Apart from presentational skills,” Lucas said, “we need to up-date our information continually. Much of the science that is important now was not included in the courses I took as a child, or taught more recently as a teacher in schools and university science departments.

“I should emphasize that this part of the study covered only deliberately educative, informal sources of science education such as television and newspapers,” he continued. “People learn about science from other sources, too, but these are much more difficult to study and to affect.”

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