NEW YORK -- One of the many paradoxes that contort the US national character is the country’s uneasy relationship with science. Not litmus paper and Bunsen burners, but a raw belief that science can provide or at least go some way to informing truth.
This seems odd for a nation that put a man on the moon, created the atom bomb (with European help) and regularly pioneers breakthroughs in medical procedures and treatments. However, a new associated Press-GfK poll highlights how some scientific concepts are far more accepted than others.
Participants in the survey were asked not whether they believed in settled science facts but to rate their confidence in myriad scientific statements. Asked whether they believed smoking caused cancer, there were few doubts about the veracity of the statement.
Asked whether they were confident about global warming, the age of the earth and evolution by natural selection and the respondents were not quite so sure. Yet perhaps the most interesting area of doubt surrounded the theory of the Big Bang, the prevailing cosmological model for the origins of the universe, which, according to science, poured forth some 13.8 billion years ago.
Only 4% doubted that smoking causes cancer, while a meagre 8% doubted that our physical being is determined by a genetic code. However, 40% said they were not confident that the earth is warming up, with a similar number casting doubt on the age of the earth and that man is a product of evolution by natural selection. Amazingly, more than half (51%) expressed strong doubt over the Big Bang theory.
Of course it is little surprise that areas most doubted are the most political, with the business and religious wings of the Republican Party having a vested interest in stultifying acceptance of the science surrounding global warming or the origins of life.
Speaking to AP, Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, said the poll highlights "the iron triangle of science, religion and politics," while Nobel Prize winner Randy Schekman of the University of California, Berkeley, bemoaned the "pervasive" science ignorance. "These attitudes are reinforced when some of our leaders are openly antagonistic to established facts," he added.
The poll also highlighted the political polarisation of American society, with far more Democrats accepting the science of evolution, global warming and the Big Bang than Republicans. The survey also found that those who believed in God were far more likely to question established science.
Nobel Prize winner professor Robert Lefkowitz of Duke University told AP: "When you are putting up facts against faith, facts can't argue against faith. It makes sense now that science would have made no headway because faith is untestable."