This just in: American’s knowledge of science still sucks.

introspective-catYou don’t have to look very hard to see that science literacy in America is pretty dismal, but it’s still disheartening when a new survey is released showing that it’s even worse than you thought.

Quarter of Americans Convinced Sun Revolves Around Earth, Survey Finds – ABC News.

A survey of 2,200 people that was released Friday revealed some alarming truths about the state of science education across the country, with many failing to an answer even the most basic astronomy and science questions, according to a release about the survey.

Out of nine questions in the survey, participants scored an average 6.5.

Only 39 percent answered correctly with “true” when asked if “The universe began with a huge explosion,” while only 48 percent knew that “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals,” according to the statement.

It’s hard to estimate how much of this ignorance is willful because it conflicts with religious belief. It boggles the mind that in 2015 less than half of Americans understand and/or accept the theory of evolution.

Worse, most folks don’t think science is worthy of increased government spending:

Asked whether there needed to be more government funding for science, 30 percent said there should be.

These weren’t difficult questions. Anyone who made it through high school should be able to answer them without difficulty. A good part of the reason America has risen to the position its in is because of our mastery of science and the benefits that come with it.

I suppose we could chalk this up to the topics not being something that most folks deal with day to day, but they seem like the sort of thing you’d know just by paying a little attention to what’s going on around you.

I believe in a Secular America.

An awesome video by Jared Scheib and one of the finalists in the Richard Dawkins Foundation’s Ten Point Vision of a Secular America contest.You can see the rest at that link and vote for your favorite one.

Fareed Zakaria on America’s grim budget outlook.

Columnist Fareed Zakaria has an excellent article about how we’re doing exactly the wrong things needed for long-term economic growth. We’re cutting investment when we should be increasing it and we’re not touching entitlement programs that could use some reform.

But the part that really caught my eye was this bit on the disparity between what we spend on children versus the elderly:

As countries get rich, you might assume that they focus greater attention on their children. Not in the United States. The federal government’s expenditures on children have shrunk as a share of the budget over the past 30 years. In 1960, about 20 percent of the federal budget went to programs dedicated to the health, development and education of Americans under the age of 18. Today it’s 10 percent and falling.

By contrast, spending on the elderly has skyrocketed, doubling as a percentage of the budget during that time. Spending on Social Security and Medicare alone makes up close to 40 percent of the budget. In a decade, that share will rise considerably, perhaps to as much as half the federal budget. Whatever the exact percentages are – what you define as programs for children and the elderly can vary – the conclusion is clear: The federal government spends between $4 and $5 on elderly people for every dollar it spends on children.

Why is this happening? To put it bluntly, children don’t vote or make campaign contributions, and the elderly do both aggressively. Our political system is hyper-responsive to votes and money, so the natural consequence is that those who organize, vote and send in dollars are looked after. Maybe we need to let toddlers form PACs.

via Fareed Zakaria – America’s grim budget outlook.

The whole article is worth a read and I encourage to check it out.

Davidson Loehr comments on the “Sad state of religion in the U.S.”

It’s sometimes hard to tell, but America is becoming less religious and more secular as the years progress. It seems every so many months someone writes an article about the declining religiosity of Americans and here’s another one:

When you count the people in the pews on Sunday rather than having a pollster ask whether or not they attend church, fewer than 18% attend church regularly.  From 1980 to 2005 in the Southern Baptist Church, baptisms of people between eighteen and thirty four – in other words, their next generation of leaders – fell 40 percent, from 100,000 in 1980 to 60,000 in 2005.But the U.S. population grew by 27% during those 25 years, so the Baptists would have had to baptize 127,000 in 2005 just to stay even; they really fell by 52%.  In 2006, the Southern Baptists – who claim almost six times more members than any other white evangelical church – made a concerted effort to baptize one million people.  Not only did they fall over two-thirds short, they actually baptized even fewer than they had the year before.

You might think that some faith group must have grown during the last thirty years, and you’d be right: atheists and nonbelievers more than doubled in the eleven years between 1990 and 2001, from 14 million to 29 million: from 8% of the country to 14%.  There are more than twice as many atheists and nonbelievers as there are evangelical Christians.  And since it’s hard to believe that all atheists/nonbelievers would be willing to confess that to pollsters, the number is probably much higher.  From 2000 to 2005, church attendance fell in all fifty states.

Of course I see this trend as a good thing. More specifically I’m quite pleased that the numbers of evangelical Christians is on the decline while atheists and non-believers is on the rise. I wouldn’t have a problem with several other Christian sects continuing to thrive as many are not as problematic as the evangelicals, though if all the various sects were to fade away I wouldn’t be overly upset about it either. That possibility is pretty unlikely so I’m more than willing to be content with the more moderate denominations sticking around so long as the worse of the lot continues to shrink.

Then there’s this bit of heartwarming news as icing on the cake:

Then, to add insult to injury, when a sampling of non-Christians were asked to rate eleven groups in terms of respect, they rated evangelicals tenth.  Only prostitutes ranked lower.

Oooh, that’s gotta sting!

Evangelicals constitute not 25 percent of the U.S. population – as they have claimed – but at most 7 percent, and their numbers are falling, not rising.  All these numbers come from the churches themselves. While evangelical women make up at least 3.5% of the population (half of 7%), they make up about 20% of the women who get abortions.

Hypocrisy among the faithful? That’s unpossible!

Given that their numbers are so small and declining you have to wonder how it is that they seem to have control of the Republican party. More importantly, you have to wonder why the moderate Conservatives haven’t gotten their shit together and taken the party back to something a little less batshit insane.

But at least there’s some comfort to be found in their decline. They’ll eventually fade into obscurity so long as we can keep them from ruining the country first.

“Don’t Be A Sucker” film clip from 1947.

You can learn a lot from your elders. Here’s a film clip from 1947 produced by the U.S. War Department that is stunningly apropos to today:

This is how I grew up viewing America. We are a nation of immigrants and minorities of one form or another. It’s what makes us unique and part of what gives us our strength. It’s something to be proud of as it takes a lot of effort to make a country such as this work. There will always be people, both knowingly or ignorantly, who are willing to destroy what makes this country great. Who will seek to divide and undermine for their own gain. Who will preach hate and wrap themselves in the flag while doing it. We have a major news network that seems to have been custom built just for that purpose. The only defense we have against them is to remain ever vigilant and do our best to not be a sucker.

Found via A Blog Around A Clock.

“Magic Highway USA” from 1958 predicts what the future will bring.

I love reading and watching old predictions about what the future will bring. Sometimes they are startlingly close to the mark. However, most are like this excerpt from the 1958 Disneyland TV Show episode entitled Magic Highway USA:

Detroit wouldn’t be in the dire straights it is now if half of these predictions had come true. One of the things that struck me as I was watching this was the massive amount of energy, of all forms, it would take to make that future a reality. Self-heating roads to clear off ice and snow? Air conditioned highways through vast deserts? Self-lighting highways negating the need for headlights? Of course they were assuming everything would be atomic powered by that point in time. Even the cars, as you see at the end. Can you imagine the amount of spent radioactive fuel that would be piling up from all of that? We don’t even know what to do with what we create from the relatively few nuclear power plants we have now. Imagine if you had to deal with spent fuel rods from your car.

This was the future your parents dreamed about.

Found via Boing Boing.

Wrongly held at Gitmo for seven years an innocent man is about to be set free.

Imagine for a moment that you are in a country to provide humanitarian aid. Imagine now that that country is Afghanistan. Imagine that you got caught in a round up of suspected terrorists and carted off to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba where you’ll spend the next seven years being tortured into making false confessions with little hope of any due process. The guy in this news article doesn’t have to imagine it:

The detainee is Fouad Al Rabiah, a 50-year-old Kuwiati who was captured in Afghanistan in 2001 and sent to Guantanamo where he’s been ever since.

In a heavily redacted decision released today, Judge Colleen Kollar Kotelly said the overwhelming evidence was that Al Rabiah was in Afghanistan as a humanitarian aide worker.

She said that the Bush administration had used harsh and unapproved interrogation techniques to provoke “confessions” that government interrogators themselves later admitted were not believable. “If there exists any basis for holding Al Rabiah,” said the judge, “the government certainly hasn’t presented it to this court,” and she ordered the government to take all steps to facilitate his release.

That should not be difficult since the government of Kuwait has long asked that al Rabiah be returned home.

Seven years of your life spent in misery at the whim of the United States government because you were trying to do a good thing by helping people. Almost a decade of your life gone for no good reason. At the very least you’d think this man deserves an honest apology, if not some form of compensation, for what we put him through. It’s true that mistakes happen and sometimes the innocent get caught up in the rush to stop the bad guys, but that’s why we have due process rules in our judiciary. The Bush Administration did everything it could to ensure that any chance of due process was denied the captives they rounded up whether it be under our own Constitution, by keeping them in places beyond the jurisdiction of our courts and arguing that the Constitution didn’t apply because they weren’t Americans, or under the Geneva Conventions, by labeling them Enemy Combatants and not Prisoner’s of War for which there are rules regarding how they are to be handled.

We should be ashamed that we allowed something like this to happen in our name. We should be outraged that the people who made it happen have not been held to account. We should be demanding that Obama follow through on his campaign promise to close Gitmo within one year of his election. How many more innocent people have been sitting in Guantanamo wondering if they’d ever be free again?

For the first time I can recall my President acknowledges me.

I watched Obama’s inauguration speech being replayed last night after getting home from class and there was a sentence I couldn’t help but notice and feel good about:

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus—and non-believers.

Granted it’s just words, but it’s nice to be acknowledged as an American after so many years of Presidents either not mentioning us at all or saying things like the first President Bush in 1987 when he was still a Vice President:

No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered as patriots. This is one nation under God.

It’s a small gesture, but it’s still nice to be included rather than excluded. It’s good to know that my President won’t dismiss what I have to say simply because we disagree on the existence of God(s). Most of all it’s nice to not be vilified for a change.

It seems I’m not the only one who noticed:

Using inclusive language about religion is pretty much ritual now. If you’re a politician giving a speech and you’re going to cite one faith, you have to cite many—i.e., not just Christians, but Jews, Muslims, and Hindus as well. And that’s a good thing.

But if the standards of polite political discourse now require accepting people who pray to god in different ways, it doesn’t require recognizing those who choose not to pray at all. At least not yet. That made this line in Obama’s address significant: For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus—and non-believers.

Perhaps this is another barrier, albeit a rhetorical one, that Obama intends to tear down over the next few years.

It certainly gives me reason to hope. Something Obama seems to be pretty good at.

After eight years of George W. Bush how is the country fairing?

Republican Ronald Reagan ended the 1980 presidential debates by famously asking: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” It’s a fair question to ask at the end of a President’s term so we should stop to considering if we’re better off now after eight years of George W. Bush. The answer according to NBC is not so much:

UNEMPLOYMENT RATE
Then: 4.2% (Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 2001)
Now: 6.7% (Bureau of Labor Statistics, November 2008)

CONSUMER CONFIDENCE (1985=100)
Then: 115.7 (Conference Board, January 2001)
Now: 38.0, which is an all-time low (Conference Board, December 2008)

FAMILIES LIVING IN POVERTY
Then: 6.4 million (Census numbers for 2000)
Now: 7.6 million (Census numbers for 2007—most recent numbers available)

AMERICANS WITHOUT HEALTH INSURANCE
Then: 39.8 million (Census numbers for 2000)
Now: 45.7 million (Census numbers for 2007—most recent available)

U.S. BUDGET
Then: +236.2 billion (2000, Congressional Budget Office)
Now: -$1.2 trillion (projected figure for 2009, Congressional Budget Office)

That last one just kills me every time I see it. We were in the black and now we’re deep in the red. This is George W. Bush’s legacy.

Another survey says more Americans believe in angels and devils than evolution.

Another Harris Poll with more proof that many Americans need a mental enema:

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll(R), a new nationwide survey of 2,126 U.S. adults surveyed online between November 10 and 17, 2008 by Harris Interactive(R).
Some of the interesting findings in this new Harris Poll include:

—80% of adult Americans believe in God – unchanged since the last time we asked the question in 2005. Large majorities of the public believe in miracles (75%), heaven (73%), angels (71%), that Jesus is God or the Son of God (71%), the resurrection of Jesus (70%), the survival of the soul after death (68%), hell (62%), the Virgin birth (Jesus born of Mary (61%) and the devil (59%).

—Slightly more people – but both are minorities – believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution (47%) than in creationism (40%).

—Sizeable minorities believe in ghosts (44%), UFOs (36%), witches (31%), astrology (31%), and reincarnation (24%).

There’s some other interesting stats as well such as the differences in beliefs between Catholics and Protestants with Catholics, for example, being more likely that Protestants to accept the theory of evolution. Which is kind of ironic given the history of the Catholic church.

The good news is that the ratio of people accepting evolution has risen since a similar poll in 2005 in which 51% of people didn’t accept the theory of evolution. Which was up from a poll in 2003 that had only 28% of people buying into the theory of evolution. One of the benefits of being a long time blogger is being able to look up old polls in your archives.

So Americans are largely still idiots, but less so than in the past. That’s some progress at least.