Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sense & stupidity in America

Most academics believe that US universities are among the best in the world - of the top 20 fully 17 are supposed to be in the US. Yet in many respects American society is ignorant. It is a paradox that presumably reflects a divide.

In late 2006 fully 55% of Americans believed in Creationism. Of the remainder 27% believed in God-driven evolution while only 13% believed in Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection. Low income people and Republicans dominate in the stupidity stakes.

Moreover, America seems to have a monopoly on Creationist stupidity. A British Survey of 103 Christian religious ministers showed that 97% did not believe the world was created in 6 days and 80% did not believe in the existence of Adam and Eve.

If Americans hold foolish religious beliefs I guess it doesn't matter much. But on climate change issues only 18% of people believe that climate change is real, human-caused and with serious consequences. Troubling since, at least until recently, the US was the world's largest Greenhouse gas emitters.

I was puzzled at the AEA meetings in Chicago in 2007 that so many participants disbelieved the anthropogenic climate change hypothesis. Maybe these same people believe that we are all around because of a sinful fornication between Adam and Eve.

7 comments:

Sinclair Davidson said...

Your point is somewhat obscure. Being a successful entrepreneur/businessman/academic is somewhat independent of beliefs about creationism and Darwin and a whole host of other things.

conrad said...

It's pretty obvious how they stay on top (it's no paradox). At least from my perception, most of the science and technology labs have relatively few native born Americans in them (the largest group of people that get PhDs from US universities are now from mainland China!) -- so their universities work simply by getting the smartest people in the world. So even if the American system doesn't produce smart people, they're smart enough to allow other smart people in.

I think there are two other things that contribute. First, they have have a culture of philanthropy and paying for their own education, so you don't end up with lowest common denominator universities like Oz where money is number one, with good science being a distant cousin (let alone teaching!). Second, the level of anti-intellectualism is far lower than Australia (obviously you have more religous zealotary instead -- but that's mainly in the states without good universities in any case and only really affects a small number of areas of science), so no-one is going to laugh at you or call you a nerd because you happen to be good at science -- it's quite the opposite in fact.

melaleuca said...

It's important when nimrods like Sarah Palin, who may end up being the next US president, believes in witchcraft and apparently hears the voice of God.

It's also important because some American fundies are saying we should do nothing about AGW because it is God's will.

jc said...

harry:

Stop it with this nonsense. A civil engineer say is not impaired doing his job if he believes dinosaurs walked around 6,000 years ago.

Spiros said...

mari"Low income people and Republicans dominate in the stupidity stakes."

Nowadays low income people and Republicans are pretty much the same people. McCain won 21 states in total. That included 15 of the poorest 20 states, and 9 of the bottom 10.

"A civil engineer say is not impaired doing his job if he believes dinosaurs walked around 6,000 years ago."

Creationism is totally inconsistent with the laws of physics and chemistry, which civil engineers need to know. I suggest that civil engineers who believe in creationism put aside their religious beliefs when doing their day jobs.

"you have more religous zealotary instead -- but that's mainly in the states without good universities"

Not really true. North Carolina is in the bible belt and has many good universities. In fact NC has more PhDs per capita than any other state. But the universities lead an uneasy coexistence with the religios right. Jesse Helms, the ultra right epublican senator, used to call the University of North Carolina the University of Niggers and Communists.


Texas also has good universities; the Georgia Institute of Technology is first rate; Vanderbilt University, also first rate, is in Tennessee. And so on.

conrad said...

I agree with you Spiros (especially about UT and Vanderbilt -- I'd love to work there someday, not that I've been to Memphis or Texas!) -- I was thinking more about specific annoyance to some areas of science which are in conflict with the religious groups (i.e., all the biotech stuff) rather than education in general. I don't think religion has that big an effect on science (Iran, for example, is apparently good at engineering).

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