Earth’s hottest layer is the core, we use uranium to build nukes, and ocean tides are created by the gravitational pull of the Moon. Like, duh! But did you also know that the boiling point of water decreases with increasing altitude, or that amplitude determines the loudness of a sound wave? Huh?

Maybe you’re a smartypants who did know all those sciencey facts. (Or you’re going to tell me you did, regardless). But if so, you’re ahead of the curve, according to a new Pew Research Study that polled 3,278 adults on 12 basic science questions.

Overall, Americans gave more correct than incorrect answers — good! And unsurprisingly, people with college or graduate degrees got the most questions right. But only 6% of survey respondents received a perfect score, suggesting that some pieces of “common” knowledge aren’t so common, after all — such as how light travels through a magnifying glass.

And there are a few widespread misconceptions that I’m trying really hard not to smash my face against a wall over. For instance, nearly a quarter of survey respondents said that astronomy is “the study of how the positions of stars and planets can influence human behavior.” I’m sorry, but that’s a different field of study entirely — it’s called bullshit. Write that one down.


Of course, the questions in the Pew survey represent only teensy tiny slice of basic scientific knowledge, and a rather physical-sciencey one. That bias could explain why men tended to score slightly higher than women — previous Pew research surveys note that gender gaps on scientific knowledge disappear on health and biomedical topics:

But despite its limitations, the survey does manage to tease out some interesting patterns. For instance, the vast majority of young people know that radio waves transmit cell phone calls, while only 57% of adults over the age of 65 have figured this out. On the other hand, adults aged 65 and older schooled American’s youth when it comes to correctly identifying the developer of the polio vaccine (hint: it wasn’t Einstein).


Wait, so....young people are into technology and bored by history? Okay, maybe we already knew that. Read the full report — and take the interactive quiz, now that I’ve given you half the answers! — here.

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