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


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Republicans are more scientifically literate than Democrats or independents are

++Addition++Razib looks at the same by political orientation (liberal/moderate/conservative) and finds liberals and conservatives to be pretty much at parity when it comes to scientific literacy, with moderates markedly less well versed. He then ran logistic regressions to look at how specific dependent variables correlate with scientific literacy. Education and intelligence consistently predict better performance (unsurprisingly).

---

It is often insinuated by major media sources that Republicans are less scientifically literate than Democrats are, primarily because of the former's skepticism over evolution and opposition to taxpayer funding of embryonic stem cell research. Jason Malloy dispelled this notion several years ago, but I wanted to present the GSS data on the topic in a more concrete and packaged form.

The following table shows differences in responses to the science module of items deployed by the GSS during 2004 and 2006* by partisan identification. Some of the questions are inverted for viewer ease so that in all cases, the higher the percentage, the more knowledgeable the group is. The gold-silver-bronze color scheme doesn't work too well on a white background, so green indicates the highest level of relative knowledge, black the middling amount, and red the lowest quantity:

ItemDemIndRep
Astrology is not scientific64.3%55.7%75.1%
The benefits of science exceed the harms73.3%66.2%78.0%
Understands the need for control groups in testing79.8%81.4%82.1%
The earth's core is very hot94.2%92.6%94.6%
Demonstrates a basic understanding of probability87.9%90.0%91.8%
Not all radioactivity is man-made79.2%78.5%85.9%
Father, not mother, determines a child's sex72.0%74.7%77.3%
Lasers are not made by condensing sound waves63.4%70.9%75.1%
Electrons are smaller than atoms71.4%71.3%72.8%
Antibiotics do not kill viruses55.7%55.4%65.8%
Continental drift has and continues to occur90.1%90.6%87.9%
Humans evolved from other animals57.6%50.7%41.5%
The earth revolves around the sun79.2%73.9%81.5%
It takes the earth one year to rotate around the sun75.8%78.8%78.9%
Respondent will eat genetically modified foods66.1%69.4%73.1%
The north pole is on a sheet of ice67.0%59.7%63.4%
Not all man-made chemicals cause cancer when eaten46.6%46.4%52.6%
Exposure to radioactivity doesn't necessarily lead to death67.5%67.1%77.0%
Exposure to pesticides doesn't necessarily cause cancer55.5%57.9%66.8%

The media insinuation is applicable when the issue is evolution, but for the rest of science, there is scant evidence to support the assertion that Republicans are more ignorant than Democrats and independents are. To the contrary, Republicans tend to be better informed.

The table includes all respondents, not just whites, in part because that is how the debate is framed (and so often Republicans would be able to use this to their rhetorical advantage if they were deft enough to) and in part because I'm planning future posts where the same items are considered by race and sex.

* With the exception of the last three questions, which were asked in 1993, 1994, and 2000.

GSS variables used: PARTYID(0-2)(3)(4-6), ASTROSCI, SCIBNFTS, EXPDESGN, ODDS1, HOTCORE, RADIOACT, BOYORGRL, LASERS, ELECTRON, VIRUSES, CONDRIFT, EVOLVED, EARTHSUN, SOLARREV, EATGM, ICESHEET, SCITEST5, GRNTEST1, GRNTEST5

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Countries American authors write about

The blog post where Agnostic looked at how much attention the New York Times (a reasonable measure of the pulse of the major American media more generally) devoted to countries around around the world as a means of, among other things, allowing for some perspective on US foreign policy is among my favorite.

I've wanted to do something similar but covering a much longer time horizon using Google's Ngrams, but once you go beyond eight or so items in a single line graph, it quickly degenerates into an aesthetically displeasing cluster.

So instead, I captured the last 208 years of American literary history of what constitutes the 50 countries I'd guess Americans would be most likely to jot down if asked to write the first 50 that came to their minds. It's an arbitrary selection, but there are places like Bhutan and Saint Kitts that are simply meaningless to most people. The y-axis is auto-fitted to the entire range over the last two centuries, so inter-country comparisons are relative, not absolute.

Parenthetically, one nice feature of Ngrams is that searches are case sensitive, so while some countries like Turkey conceivably are over counted a bit in some years if a book contained a sentence starting with the regular noun "turkey", this is essentially a non-issue.

France:

England:

Ireland:

Holland (the Netherlands):

Germany:

Portugal:

Italy:

Spain:

Russia (Soviet Union):

Switzerland:

Sweden:

Poland:

Europe:

The Old Continent doesn't loom as large as it used to. A tale of two cities no longer, as thinking about who Americans should have greater affinity for, the English or the French, is about as antiquated as the debates between federalists and anti-federalists are. Russia was a big deal as the Bolsheviks took over and the Soviet Union started making headway. As the latter fell apart, its mother country followed a real-life decline paralleling that of its decline in importance from an American perspective. Switzerland, true to its notorious neutrality, scoots along horizontally minding its own business. The immigrant waves from Poland and Germany show up, but like the rest of Europe, it's all downhill in the 20th century.

Australia:

New Zealand:

United States:

Canada:


Hello Anglosphere! I assume increased globalization brought first world nations surrounded by the third world into greater focus among those in the US accustomed to paying the most attention to Western European. As the world 'shrank', I guess Australia moved into throwing distance, just like England and Germany had, uh, been all along!

China:

Japan:

Korea:

The Philippines:

India:

Pakistan:

Afghanistan:

Vietnam:

Thailand:

Asia:

Vietnam and Afghanistan would rank alongside Laos and the rest of the crapistans, respectively, if we hadn't gone into those countries, spent lots of time, blood, and money killing the bad guys, and planted the seeds of freedom that sprouted into the dynamic, modern, liberal nations that Vietnam and especially Afghanistan are today.

We pay attention to explosive growth as (South) Korea and Thailand demonstrate, but sort of lose interest after a country on the ascent peaks and then starts sliding downwards (see Japan). Hu Jintao is a pretty big deal, but he still yet to get out from underneath Mao's shadow.

South Africa:

Angola:

Zimbabwe:

The Congo:

Ethiopia:

The Sudan:

Somalia:

Kenya:

Madagascar:

Africa:


In the 1960s, Americans met their father's poor mistress for the first time (Ethiopia and Madagascar don't count, as they're not genuinely African!) and realized that though they'd been estranged for a few centuries, the Dark Continent was the United States' other parent continent. Some parts of Africa were just too depressing to pay attention to for long, but others, like South Africa, the Congo, and Zimbabwe captured the popular imagination when they overthrew their oppressors and through self-determination allowed themselves to become the flourishing nations they are today!

Mexico:

Panama:

Cuba:

Venezuela:

Brazil:

Peru:

Argentina:

Chile:


You might think we'd be paying more attention to South America as it creeps northward, but you'd be wrong. The canal is fine. What more do you want to know?

Egypt:

Lebanon:

Syria:

Iraq (Mesopotamia):

Turkey:

Israel:

Saudi Arabia:

Iran (Persia):


The places that have little direct influence on the flow of oil, like Egypt and Syria (yes, they both produce about enough to provide for themselves, and there is the Suez applies, but they aren't Saudi Arabia!), mattered a lot more when our ancestors were in control of them than they do now. Today we only tune in (and get giddy) when their pious throwback populations overthrow their relatively secular, friendly rulers because we're masochists. Or when neocons alert us to the threat of a rising superpower bent on Isra-, er, our destruction.