You might be thinking that a minute sample size was taken among a population of the severely uninformed, but evidences suggests otherwise. The National Science Foundation conducts a poll to measure scientific literacy each year. This year, 2,200 people were asked ten questions about physical and biological sciences, and about one in four people did not know that the Earth revolved around the Sun; a proven scientific fact that was discovered in 1543 by Nicolaus Copernicus.
Now before jumping to the conclusion that this provides yet more evidence that Americans are strikingly ignorant, it’s worth noting that among citizens of the European Union polled in 2005, 29% believed the Sun revolves around the Earth.
But hold on — here’s perhaps the most revealing element in popular awareness about basic science on both sides of the Atlantic: both population groups demonstrated a better understanding of plate tectonics.
83% of Americans and 87% of Europeans understand that “the continents on which we live have been moving for millions of years and will continue to move in the future.”
Does this mean that continental drift is an easier concept to grasp than the structure of the solar system?
I don’t think so. Neither do I think that a quarter of Americans believe in Ptolemaic astronomy. It seems more likely that a significant number of people who are not speaking their native language find the question — Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth? — grammatically challenging.
In other words, this poll may reveal less about what people believe than it reveals about how well they understand what they are being asked.