Saturday, August 12, 2006

Survey on Evolution

Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection is one of the most important contributions to science. Almost 150 years after the publication of Darwin's controversial book The Origin of Species, how successful have we been in convincing the general public of the claim that human beings have evolved from earlier species? The latest survey in this week's issue of Science is disturbing and demonstrates how we should never be complacent in our fight against ignorance and dogma. The article is here (subscription needed) and here is a snippet:

Beginning in 1985, national samples of U.S. adults have been asked whether the statement, "Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals," is true or false, or whether the respondent is not sure or does not know. We compared the results of these surveys with survey data from nine European countries in 2002, surveys in 32 European countries in 2005, and a national survey in Japan in 2001 (5). Over the past 20 years, the percentage of U.S. adults accepting the idea of evolution has declined from 45% to 40% and the percentage of adults overtly rejecting evolution declined from 48% to 39%. The percentage of adults who were not sure about evolution increased from 7% in 1985 to 21% in 2005. After 20 years of public debate, the public appears to be divided evenly in terms of accepting or rejecting evolution, with about one in five adults still undecided or unaware of the issue.

Public acceptance of evolution does vary from country to country. Here are the survey results from the Science article published by Jon D. Miller, Eugenie C. Scott, and Shinji Okamoto.

Why does the US rank so low on the acceptance of evolution? The authors provide the following explanation:

The politicization of science in the name of religion and political partisanship is not new to the United States, but transformation of traditional geographically and economically based political parties into religiously oriented ideological coalitions marks the beginning of a new era for science policy. The broad public acceptance of the benefits of science and technology in the second half of the 20th century allowed science to develop a nonpartisan identification that largely protected it from overt partisanship. That era appears to have closed.

PBS has a very informative and entertaining site on evolution here.