A Few Basic Science And Tech Facts Many Americans Don’t Know

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Gillmor Gang: Game of Drones

How does a power cord charge a cellphone? Magic, silly! According to a Pew poll, many of my fellow Americans are completely in the dark about how their world works, including the fact that carbon dioxide is a chemical responsible for some global warming.

Readers can take the interactive quiz here before reading more. Pew’s quiz is especially salient this week, after another round of International test scores confirmed, once again, that America’s poorly run education system is producing a deeply unequal and uninformed society.

Here are a few of the essential gems that participants couldn’t answer.

Less Than Half Of High School Graduates Know The Cause of Global Warming

Forty-nine percent could not identify “carbon” as the cause of climate change (as opposed to Hydrogen, Helium, or Radon). Note, this wasn’t about whether humans are causing global warming, just what, on Earth, is making it warmer outside.

Equally concerning to those who think Democracy rocks is the fact that about one-third didn’t know the basics of drug experimentation. About 33 percent of those without a diploma thought that researchers should give all the participants in a study the treatment drug, rather than half (the control group should not get the drug).

The graph below is not segmented by education level.

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Nano Means Small

Nanorobots are not, in fact, robots that are very large, cold, or hot. Nano means tiny; it’s a prefix I’d like to know when an evil super-villain infects the water supply with mind-controlling robots. Or, less likely, when our government is debating pollution and crop spray regulations.

“The inability to communicate effectively the potential risks associated with nanotechnology could create an environment where appropriate regulation and confident private sector investment are threatened,” explained a research paper from Yale’s Cultural Cognition Lab [PDF].

Electrons Are Smaller Than Atoms And Lasers Are Not Made Of Sound

Atoms_For_Peace_symbolAbout 33 percent of those over 65 years of age didn’t know that an electron was smaller than an atom. One would think with the Cold War’s delightful history of nuclear propaganda, someone would have noticed that the objects orbiting the center ball were smaller. In total, less than half (47 percent) got that question correct.

Another fun fact: sound does not produce blinding light. Lasers are something we see. Despite this fact, less than half (47 percent) of Americans thought lasers were made of sound.

Bacteria Resistance Is A Thing

We might be slowly rumbling towards a global epidemic of drug-resistant bacteria. The more we inoculate Big Mac-destined cattle from disease, the worse our defenses become. Most people (77 percent) recognized that bacteria resistance was more of a problem than bacteria addiction (not a thing). Only 58 percent of those with a diploma or less could answer this question correctly.

Here’s the full breakdown of the quiz:

fullgraph