We’re Number… 29! December 5, 2007

We’re Number… 29!

Remember the chart that placed America just above Turkey and just below everyone else when it came to acceptance of evolution?


(Miller JD, Scott EC, Okamoto S (2006) Public acceptance of evolution. Science 313:765-766.)

Well, the Programme for International Student Assessment survey was just released. The PISA survey is “the most comprehensive and rigorous international yardstick of secondary-school students’ attainments.”

More specifically:

[The survey] tested students on how much they knew about science and their ability to use scientific knowledge and understanding to identify and address questions and resolve problems in daily life. It also examined student performance in reading and mathematics, and collected data on the student, family and institutional factors that can help explain differences in performance.

The US is nowhere near the top.

Of course.

The 15-year-olds have failed us.

And the adults who have opposed proper science education in our schools have failed them.


I know the picture isn’t the most clear thing you’ve ever seen… so check out the full results (PDF) here.

We’re just under Latvia… and just above the Slovak Republic.

Victory is ours.

In case you’re wondering why we’re in the green, here’s what the color means:

Statistically significantly below the [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] average

We have such a long way to go…

(Thank to Laramie for the link!)

[tags]atheist, atheism, science, education[/tags]

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  • Michael B.

    This is one of the saddest things I have ever seen. It really brings me down…

    Sometimes I feel like we are turning into a 3rd world theocracy.

  • Darn… Canada is at number three. Usually we’re the second best at everything.

  • Yay Australia! We’re… uh, statistically significantly above average!

    Somehow I’m not sure that would make the national anthem.

    But still. Yay.

  • Cade

    Look at the bright side. At least we kicked Turkey’s ass.

    We are moving up though. We beat Lithuania, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Slovak Republic, Portugal, Luxembourg, Italy, Spain, and Norway even when we didn’t beat them in acceptance of evolution.

  • Jon Strong

    I thinkk we did good. America’s mean score is low just because people here are really nice people.

  • I like Jon Strong’s interpretation. 🙂

    Ok, in all seriousness, I think that it’s fairly obvious that we don’t take science education as seriously as we should in the US, and rankings aren’t needed to demonstrate that. I think that we should stop focusing on how other countries score and instead focus on what they do, and how we can take advantage of similar programs. The last thing I want is more NCLB testing.

  • Shishberg – I join you in celebration. We’re number 8, we’re number 8!

  • Richard Wade

    I give science presentations for kids in libraries and schools, and although this survey’s data is dreary, the hopeful thing is that I still see a tremendous hunger for quality science education. I think we in the U.S. fail our students in two basic ways: Firstly, we don’t help them see how science directly relates to their lives. They have no sense that it connects to them, that it matters to them, so they don’t care about it. When I teach kids about the history of astronomy, I start by putting a big tray of good looking food in front of them and saying that we couldn’t have all that food if it wasn’t for astronomy. It gets their attention. By the end of the talk they understand the connection and then we enjoy eating it.

    Secondly, we fill up their heads with what science knows, but hardly anything about how science knows. Heavy on facts, light on method. They may have memorized the circumference of the Earth but they don’t know how that was measured 2,250 years ago.

    Understanding science as a useful way of thinking and solving everyday problems could help students put more effort into their studies.

  • Surprised to see Ireland above-average, if barely. The Catholic Church isn’t doing its anti-Science job well enough, is it?

  • I think that we should stop focusing on how other countries score and instead focus on what they do, and how we can take advantage of similar programs.

    What?!?! We are the greatest country in the world. Why would need to take advice from other countries? Some of those atheistic countries even accept “teh gay” as equal. No clearly the answer is we need more prayer in school. Why do you hate freedom? USA!! USA !! USA!!

  • Mriana

    I find this sad, but no surprise. My older son and I argued about a scientific theory being a fact. He said it wasn’t and I tried to explain to him that for scientific purposes it is, yet subject to change as new info comes in, but ID is not even a theory nor is it fact. He understood ID is a psuedo-science, but he did not comprehend a scientific theory. 🙁 I’ve been battling the education system for years, but their teaching seems to have sunk into my 18 y.o.’s mind. sigh.

  • Brian, we’re #2 unless it’s at the Olympics. Then we’re 4th at everything.

  • Jen

    Did you notice, though, that the top three countries in acceptance of evolution (Iceland, Denmark, and Sweden) actually scored rather low in the PISA survey? Iceland scored only two places above the U.S.

    This may suggest that it’s not so much the science education that’s causing our weird beliefs (although I agree whole-heartedly that it still needs to be improved), but that America’s overbearing religiosity may be more to blame. You start with bad science education, and then fundamental religious beliefs sweep away any nuggets of good science that you actually do manage to learn….

  • Go Kiwis!! Beating Aussies again….. 😉

  • Jimbo-B

    I think Jen hit the nail on the head… too much religiousity.

    And just think: In a couple months the ID movie, “Expelled,” featuring Ben Stein will hit theaters. Instead of fixing the problem of bad science, we have people like this who exacerbate the situation!

  • No, the fifteen year olds aren’t failing us. They’re doing the best they can in a system devised by cowards who don’t want to rock the evangelical/fundamentalist boat. Blame it on the teachers, the PTAs, and the parents who won’t stand up for good science education.

  • So, why do we care so much about science in education? Isn’t it the basics that we need to nail before we get to science, like reading, writing and math?

    And since when is the teaching of evolution the cornerstone of scientific knowledge?

  • Jen


    Okay, I’ll bite.

    First, see Richard Wade’s comment above for a wonderful explanation of why it is important to teach science to kids (and adults, too). Especially as the technology of our societies increase (and becomes a topic of political discourse), it is vital that Americans be able to understand scientific methods and processes, and make informed decisions about them.

    Yes, reading and math are very important, but not everything. If all you want your kid to be able to do for the rest of his/her life is run a cash register, then I guess you could just stop there. But if you want him/her to be able to problem solve, come up with innovative ideas, and be generally able to make informed decisions…knowledge of the ability to properly test ideas is critical.

    And evolution is a cornerstone of biological knowledge. I realize quotes aren’t arguments, but I’ll just mention the essay “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution” (written by a Russian Orthodox Christian, no less!), which is true. Evolutionary theory ties together certain elements of fields that otherwise wouldn’t appear related. It’s an enormously useful tool in understanding our world. To ignore its influence in a science class, because of the fear of offending certain segments of the population, is ludicrous.

  • Jen

    Incidentally, Richard, I wanted to agree completely with your post, especially the second part about how science is presented to kids. It’s true that we do a disservice to people when we present “science” as nothing more than a list of facts to memorize, or a bunch of chemical recipes, or dry equations that they’ll never use, as opposed to a method to explore the world around them.

    To be fair to teachers, even without the pressure of the evangelicals, it is enormously hard to teach science in the way it “ought” to be taught. To present open-ended experiments, thoughtful questions, and really press the bounderies of conventional ways of thinking, is difficult even in a well-funded school with bright and attentive students. By way of contrast, my ex taught seventh-grade science in an inner-city Baltimore school for a year, and it was nearly impossible just to get the kids to sit down for the full class period, much less have them run experiments or have any meaningful dialogue. This is a case where even getting the kids to memorize the list of facts would have been amazing–we’re talking kids who were (barely) reading at a second-grade level (and this is where Chicken, above, does have somewhat of a point…good reading and math skills are vital to have a good science education, and sadly we don’t often get that in a lot of schools).

    *sigh* The problems we face as a nation in regards to education are so deep and so intertwined, that it’s hard to know sometimes even where to start.

  • Sorry Jen, but I can’t help myself….

    Evolutionary theory ties together certain elements of fields that otherwise wouldn’t appear related.

    Like monkeys to humans?

  • Jen


    Um, no. Although it does help explain why monkeys (and, even moreso, apes) and humans do look very much related. 😉

  • Jen

    (I’m assuming you’re American)

    Maybe Americans look like monkeys, where as Kiwis (or at least people from New Zealand) have no resemblance to monkeys and apes…. 😉

  • Jen

    Ooookay…I don’t have a habit of engaging trolls. I was trying to give you the benefit of the doubt in assuming you were genuinely interested in information, but at this point I can see you’re just baiting me.

    I do hope that eventually you choose to educate yourself a little more about the theory you’re criticizing, since you really don’t seem to understand it very well at all.

  • So I’m a troll not an ape? Interesting evolutionary leap there Jen!

    Christians get a bad rap because we question evolution, but maybe we wouldn’t question evolution if there were some undeniable facts the support it.

    It’s kinda like atheists wanting undeniable miracles before they will consider the concept of God.

  • Richard Wade

    Hi, I Could Use,
    (I don’t want to call you “Chicken” for short; it would seem disrespectful. You said,

    Christians get a bad rap because we question evolution, but maybe we wouldn’t question evolution if there were some undeniable facts the support it.

    I don’t think that Christians get a bad rap for questioning evolution or anything else. Some are criticized because they don’t offer evidence that backs up their counter arguments. It’s important to question things. That’s what science does. But it’s also important to back up your alternative explanation with physical evidence.

    You should also consider that a great many Christians have no problem accepting evolution as a good explanation for the world as it appears around us. They fully believe in the divinity of Jesus and the rest of their core beliefs. They just don’t think Genesis should be taken literally.

    As for “undeniable facts,” unfortunately there is no such thing. Any fact can be denied by people. People can deny anything and they do deny things that are obvious to others every day. People can and do deny that the Emperor has no clothes. No amount of evidence, no matter how compelling can force anyone to accept something as a fact. I have watched people deny that their loved one has committed a serious crime. They see a video of the person doing the crime, they see the stolen merchandise in the person’s possession, the blood on their hands, even hear the person confess in detail to the crime, but still they deny, “No no, it’s not so, not one of my family.” Denial can trump reason easily.

    So although evolution is rich with compelling evidence, none of it is an “undeniable fact” that can overpower some people’s ability to deny, if that’s what they choose to do.

    As I’ve said before on other threads, there are people who follow their ears, and people who follow their eyes. Those who follow their ears believe what their authority figures have told them. Those who follow their eyes go out into the world and see for themselves. Children all follow their ears at first, believing whatever their parents tell them. As they grow up, some of them begin to switch to following their eyes instead. When what they see in the world around them does not match what they have been told they have a crisis. Will they believe what their loved and respected family and clergy have told them or will they believe their own eyes? A remarkable number of them actually go back to only following their ears, denying what they themselves saw. The ability to deny is very powerful. But others cannot go back. It is often very painful for them, but they must go forward. Younger people watch this painful crisis and some of them avoid their own crisis by never looking too closely, too broadly or too long.

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