Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Scientific literacy by race

Continuing to look at demographic differences in levels of basic scientific knowledge, we now move onto racial groups. The following table shows differences in responses, by race, to the science module of items deployed by the GSS during 2004 and 2006. Some of the questions are inverted from the GSS for viewer ease so that in all cases, the higher the percentage, the more knowledgeable the group is. Bright green indicates the highest level of relative knowledge, followed by black, orange, and red:

Item
White
Black
Hispanic
Asian
Astrology is not scientific
70.6%
50.0%
56.6%
64.0%
The benefits of science exceed the harms
78.2%
53.7%
64.9%
64.2%
Understands the need for control groups in testing
82.8%
75.1%
70.5%
80.5%
The earth's core is very hot92.9%
78.3%
77.5%
83.5%
Demonstrates a basic understanding of probability95.4%
91.5%
84.5%
90.1%
Not all radioactivity is man-made85.7%
66.9%
68.1%
68.9%
Father, not mother, determines a child's sex76.8%
63.8%
73.0%
67.4%
Lasers are not made by condensing sound waves74.3%
45.9%
60.5%
64.2%
Electrons are smaller than atoms74.5%
57.6%
66.4%
75.9%
Antibiotics do not kill viruses66.1%
31.4%
36.2%
53.3%
Continental drift has and continues to occur91.1%
79.9%
85.3%
90.7%
Humans evolved from other animals52.6%
33.9%
47.7%
68.9%
The earth revolves around the sun81.1%
66.9%
78.1%
86.5%
It takes the earth one year to rotate around the sun79.2%
69.7%
64.5%
85.0%
Respondent will eat genetically modified foods72.2%
52.5%
68.3%
79.2%
The north pole is on a sheet of ice64.6%
56.8%
77.6%
66.6%

Before balking at the superior performance of whites when compared not only to NAMs but also to Asians, consider what the NAEP shows us regarding science scores. Looking California and New York--states with the two largest Asian populations in the country--notice that whites outperform Asians in science in both of them (for Texas and New Jersey, the states coming in third and fourth in Asian collecting, that is not the case, however). The Asian advantage is pronounced in math, less so (if at all) in science, and actually a slight deficit in reading.

Darwin's famous quote, "It is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science," illustrates a sentiment that is shared more by whites than by non-whites. Excepting an awareness of evolution and heliocentrism, whites are more scientifically literate than non-whites (somewhat surprisingly, including Asians) are.

Religious conservatives like to point out that blacks and Hispanics are more likely to conceive of the universe as being divinely created than whites are, and consequently militant atheists like Richard Dawkins are attacking the NAM worldview especially hard. Like emphasizing black opposition to same-sex marriage and Hispanic opposition to abortion, this tactic has failed to spur NAMs to join the ranks of the political right, but this provides more evidence that said religious conservatives are correct in their assertions.

The item on lasers is a dichotomous one. Blacks would have actually fared better by answering randomly. Majorities of NAMs operate under the assumption that antibiotics treat both bacterial and viral infections. Among readers in the Steveosphere and among SWPLs alike, cognizance of the fact that in the 21st century one in three black Americans believe the sun rotates around the earth is probably uncommon. One in five--about 40 million--white Americans believe the same.

The strong showing by Hispanics on the question about the terrain of the North Pole is a potentially intriguing outlier. It's possibly the the result of a data entry error, but it could also be legitimate, though I don't have much of an idea as to why such a strong exception to the general pattern that emerges from performance on the rest of the items exists.

As was pointed out in the comments to the initial post on scientific literacy by partisan identification, race is a confounding factor that obfuscates the white liberal v. white conservative status competition that SWPLs truly care about. I'll reconstruct the table from that post, restricted to whites only, in the near future.

GSS variables used: RACECEN1(1)(2)(4-10)(15-16), ASTROSCI, SCIBNFTS, EXPDESGN, ODDS1, HOTCORE, RADIOACT, BOYORGRL, LASERS, ELECTRON, VIRUSES, CONDRIFT, EVOLVED, EARTHSUN, SOLARREV, EATGM, ICESHEET


11 comments:

CHK said...

"The North Pole is on as sheet of ice" - yes, but do they actualy know there's water underneath?

A gripe: Militant atheist? Last I looked, Richard Dawkins hadn't bombed any skyscrapers, buses, trains, plains, or abortion clinics, nor called for the death of any authors, preachers or cartoonists.

Bill said...

High IQ white dude that I am, I'm not sure I'd answer true to "The North Pole is on a sheet of ice that floats on the Arctic Ocean," which is the exact question wording. In fact, I think I would answer false. The North Pole isn't an object or even really a place. It's a kind of abstraction, like the equator or the center of the Milky Way.

Lots of smart people I know had the same problem with taking tests. To get an answer "right," it wasn't enough to know more about the subject than the person who wrote the test and to be much smarter. You had to be able to answer the question "If I were the moron who wrote this question, which answer would I think is right?" This is a hard problem.

Audacious Epigone said...

CHK,

Point taken, though I of course meant it in the political sense of the expression, like a VP as "attack dog", etc.

Bill,

It would be more comforting if, instead of T/F, the GSS posed it in a multiple choice format that highlighted all the plausible answers most people would volunteer (ie, a) in Antarctica, b) floating on a sheet of ice, b) on a continental land mass opposite the south pole, etc)

ducemealuce said...

I'll never stop wondering how dumb Americans are. 20% of white americans think that earth doesn't revolve around the son. OMG. Stereotypes usually don't lie.

hbd chick said...

whites do real good until it comes to evolution. (*facepalm*)

it would've been interesting to see asians broken down between, say, east asians and southeast asians. filipinos ain't as smart as japanese folks, for instance.

Audacious Epigone said...

hbd chick,

The Asian sample numbers 115, so it starts to get a bit dicey when they start being split up. Filipinos do relatively well compared to other East Asians given what might be predicted from their ancestral homelands alone, but your point is definitely valid.

Anonymous said...

A lot of southeast Asian Americans are ethnic Chinese that fled Communism, or came seeking opportunities. For example, the majority of "Filipino-Americans" speak a Chinese language dialect. This skews southeast Asian performance upward.

Anonymous said...

In a test of scientific knowledge and skills, Chinese university students outdid Americans immensely on the knowledge section, but scored no higher on the reasoning section. Link below.

http://www.parapundit.com/archives/005921.html

It suggests that Chinese and Americans are about equal in cognitive ability, but Chinese students may be studying in a more rigorous schooling environment and have tiger moms.

Top Arguments said...

Curious what the table'd look like if using religion & related questions.

Chris said...

Father, not mother, determines a child's sex

That's a crappily worded question. Nobody determines a child's sex, except maybe an IVF technician doing a fertilization.

Anonymous said...

HBD Chick "it would've been interesting to see asians broken down between, say, east asians and southeast asians. filipinos ain't as smart as japanese folks, for instance."

The whole category of "Asian" is silly. We should distinguish between North Asians (high IQ) and South Asians (low IQ). The average IQ of India is only 81.

As other HBD bloggers have suggested, we should use abbreviation NNAM (Non-North-Asian-Minority).