0 thoughts on “I am, like, really smart and stuff

  1. The level of questions in this quiz is pathetic.
    If really only ten percent of participants are able to answer all twelve correctly, then the state of the Union is even worse then I had previously thought possible.
    Fortunately, I hail from Canada, and from what I know from my kids’ education THAT kind of knowledge equals a grade six or seven level at worst.

  2. PS – but then Canada is a socialist country to the idiot republicans – and their Canadian mirror image the currently ruling “CONservatives” and as we all know, socialist countries indoctrinate their children with all kinds of useless knowledge contradicting various holy books.

  3. I thought the questions were OK but on the easy side. The questions were a bit problematical. Some would not survive many of the undergrads I’ve taught…

    “Yes, I know this is technically the CORRECT answer, but according to what you implied in Lecutre 3, this other answer could be considered at least partially correct, therefore..”

  4. #1 – yes indeedy. In fact, I would say being able to correctly answer all 12 questions would (should?) be a basic requirement for qualifying as an informed voter, since all touch on subjects of rather large importance in our lives and legislation.

    Which means 90% of the voting public do not fully understand the issues they are voting on. 50% are significantly un-informed.

  5. Julia had interesting comments about the demographic breakdown results of this quiz here.

    What I found terrifying was that among people who didn’t already know that lasers don’t work by focusing sound waves, or that electrons are smaller than atoms, well over half guessed wrong. How can they guess way worse than if they flipped a coin?

    I once had a housemate who guessed, when asked, that the stars were closer than the moon.

  6. I’m not a scientist, nor do I consider myself terribly smart (aside from being a smart ass that is) but good grief that was easy. I went through it in close to under a minute (i.e> as fast as these old eyes could focus on the text and answer then click) and score perfect. Pathetically easy – then again like Peter I’m a Canadian so maybe that makes some kind of difference – don’t know how though the last science course I took was Geography 101 in 1971 ­čÖé

  7. Yeah, I got all of them right too, and I saw a couple things that gave me pause, like GPS relying on satellites (Yes, but it relies on a lot more besides!).

    It is sad that such a small portion of the general population knows all twelve answers. I’d like to see a breakdown of the demographics showing religious beliefs, or lack thereof.

  8. I am unsurprised at the poor performance of the general public. Is it really crazy that only half of Americans actually know what a stem cell is? The funny thing is that this statistic, if I recall correctly, has not changed much over the past 5 years. With all the publicity on stem cells you would think people would bother to find out what the hell they are and what they do, but the evidence shows us again and again that science has very little penetrating power into the American mind. Hell, even a major tsunami killing 300,000 people a few years ago couldn’t bring Americans higher than 4 out of 5 people knowing how tsunami are caused. And HOLY SHIT, 30+% of Americans do not know what gas is primarily responsible for the greenhouse effect and global warming (okay, this result surprises me more than most of them)! The only reason that so many people know that doctors recommend aspirin to prevent heart attacks is because they, or someone they know, is taking it for that reason.

    These are not difficult questions; merely paying attention to the news would allow for a score of 9 or 10. Are Americans not paying attention? Do they have short memories? What are the obstacles to scientific literacy and how do we remove them? That is the real question that Mooney and Kirschenbaum left unanswered in their book this summer. As a Canadian, I am on-the-outside-looking-in on this one; I would be shocked if less than 50% of Canadian high school graduates would score 11 or 12 on this, and am certain that nearly all college graduates would get 11 or 12. Most of these questions are grade 7 or 8 level, but even if a student slept through their science classes, nearly all of the issues have been in huge global news stories in the past 5 years. Is that the issue: most Americans don’t pay attention to the world outside their hometown? Sheesh!

  9. Nathan, I suspect that at least with the atom vs electron thing, it might be that a lot of people have “atom = smallest thing” stuck in their head, so when they have to guess, they guess that an electron has to be bigger since nothing is smaller than the smallest thing, right?

  10. I agree – the questions are way too easy for that many people to miss any of them.

    I suspect that some folks feel they can safely forget some stuff that they think they’ll never need. Even though they may have heard it on the news, or seen it in a TV commercial, or been told about it by their physician, if it’s at all sciency, they’ll never need to know it.

  11. Ah, trivia masquerading as “science knowledge”. The fact that no reasoning is required – only mere parroting of words – indicates that whoever made up the poll doesn’t have any idea of how to measure genuine knowledge (or just doesn’t care).

  12. Seemed incredibly easy to me, but I am not as surprised as some that the population averages so low. Remember some 78% of Americans thought Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11, and as far as i an see a significant number of people think the new health plan contains “death panels”

  13. I think this is a classic example of a quiz that primarily measures quiz-taking ability.

    About half the population are smarter than average, but only about 10% have good test-taking skills.

  14. The glass is half-empty or the glass is half-full, I guess. You could also say that almost one-third of the people taking this quiz scored 75% or higher.

    I’m guessing that some people overthought the some of the questions, and further, that quizzes of this type won’t show a normal distribution when properly designed but rather a bimodal one. The people who were leery of the satellite option in the GPS question alluded to above, for example, might have their scores bumped up while those who just guessed would stay depressed. That is to say, this might be an example of the popular emergence of the two cultures.

  15. So, excuse my ignorance, but I thought a melting glacier could cause a tsunami… not directly, obviously, but I thought I remembered hearing something that like if a large piece of a glacier breaks off into a bay… or maybe that was a landslide.

    Meh, anyway, it was clear the underwater earthquake was the “correct” answer, and yeah, I got all 12 right like everybody else.

    The tsunami question did have the funniest wrong answer… “A large school of fish”. hahahahahahaha……

  16. Heh, interesting artifacts in the demographic info: With a few exceptions, men consistently did very slightly better than women. The only question in which men significantlly outperformed women was the “laser” question. I guess d00dz luv lazerrz or something.

    But get this: There was a perfect correlation between health-related questions and questions where women scored better, i.e. women scored better on every health-related question, and every question on which women scored better was a health-related question.

    Doesn’t necessarily mean anything, I just thought it was interesting. I also find the laser thing hilarious.

  17. Yeah you’re smart alright. Smart enough to figure out you could hit the back button to correct all those mistakes you made when you first got a 7! Don’t deny it, you know its true. or truish. or not.

  18. I did this one a while back, thought it already made the rounds. Yes, the questions are easy. Yes the results are appalling. However…

    I always expect a certain number of ‘screw ups’ from test takers, IE even if they know the facts good and hard they are likely to miss a question or three simply by checking the wrong box or misunderstanding phrasing.

    I also expect most people to have some small hole in their knowledge left by either skipping classes or some idiot instructor who was unclear in description or flat out wrong. That’s actually fairly common. For instance I’ve discovered even among smart people few seem to know a thing about chemistry at all.

    So basically I expect the average /knowledgeable/ person to score somewhere around 10 out of 12 (with a range of about 8-12).

    However, as most of you forget, the average IQ is about 100. Since most of you are college graduates working in professional atmospheres the average IQ of people you deal with is probably closer to 115-120.

    Consider that below 70 is technically mentally handicapped, this should give you some idea of scaling here. Half of the people are below 100. Half. 1/2. one in two. I would expect a person with an IQ of 85 to know something about perhaps 2 or 3 of the topics presented, and get lucky on a few others. And probably miss something on one of the things they did know something about for the same reasons smart people miss questions they know something about.

    This quiz should be sobering to us: we may know the sciences far beyond these silly questions, but it’s apparent that we really don’t understand our fellow man.

  19. I think we are looking at this the wrong way. Try this:

    Fact 1: Only 10% of Americans achieve a perfect score on a given science test.

    Fact 2: Nearly 100% of Readers of Greg’s Blog achieve 100% on the same test, and the only wrong answers are when the wireless mouse is low on batteries and the wrong answer is clicked by accident.

    Don’t let this go to your head, but you can feel proud.

  20. My wife dropped out of high school, did get a GED, and had less than a year of college. Her science knowledge is very so-so. She scored 12/12 on this quiz.

    A friend of mine is currently in grad school for political science, so she’s obviously highly educated, but the scope of her knowledge is somewhat narrow, and in the past I’ve been appalled at her lack of science acumen. For instance, I spent hours one time trying to convince her that energy really was conserved, and she still didn’t seem to believe it. She also scored 12/12.

    Spiv makes some good points about how to frame this to understand the results. I guess all I’m saying is that these questions are so basic that they aren’t even really testing science knowledge. Two people I know who are not at all versed in science got a perfect score anyway, simply because they are smart, reasonably well-informed people.

    The only thing I’d add to what Spiv said is to also remember that this isn’t like some new terrible phenomenon. It’s been like this ever since we evolved our Stone Age minds. From a far-reaching historical perspective, things are much better now than they ever have been when it comes to the average persons knowledge of the world around them.

    So these results should be sobering, but only in reminding us how far we have to go. Misanthropy is not the proper response, because really, what species or civilization has ever done better?

  21. Got all of them correct as well, but I wasn’t expecting much.

    Having written multiple choice questions for exams in a college course, I’m not surprised by any of the results showing significantly lower correct than random chance. It means that the question was worded well and may have employed some misleading “common knowledge”, as in the lasers question.

  22. Enh. All of you looking down on people who didn’t get a perfect score. Whatever. I got eleven. I got the Mars question wrong. I could give a giant flying fuck-all about the big red pie in the sky really…we’ve got more than enough problems to solve on this planet. Seriously though…give people a little credit. A lot of “common knowledge” questions prove to not be so common after all, when you actually get a significant (at least we assume it’s a significant) proportion of the society taking a quiz.

  23. What I found terrifying was that among people who didn’t already know that lasers don’t work by focusing sound waves, or that electrons are smaller than atoms, well over half guessed wrong. How can they guess way worse than if they flipped a coin?

    Doesn’t this suggest that a significant proportion of quiz-takers are intentionally giving wrong answers (always a danger with open internet surveys)? And therefore that they actually do know the answer, and therefore the number of people who know it is (statistically) significantly higher than 47%?

    The laser question had 47% right overall, which is worse than guessing. Suppose 33% of respondents actually know the answer (but some intentionally gave the wrong answer), 33% are misinformed (and all of them gave the wrong answer), and 33% don’t know and just guessed. Then to get 47% right overall, 8% of those that know would’ve had to intentionally given the wrong answer. Replacing that 8% that are wrong with the right answer (because they actually did know it), we get an adjusted %-correct of 50%, as expected.

    What proportion of people that know do you think would intentionally give the wrong answer? Suppose it’s 20%. Then the adjusted %-correct could be as high as 59%.

    What proportion of people do we think actually should know the answer? Let’s say it’s 80%. If 41% of those were intentionally giving the wrong answer, the %-correct could be 47%, but the adjusted %-correct would be 80%. I think we’d all agree that that’s pretty good.

    I’m not saying these scenarios are realistic—they are bounds on the solution space. But without knowing the percent of people that would intentionally give the wrong answer, it is hard to draw any strong conclusions from this data.

  24. What concerns me the most is that nearly half of respondents think that antibiotics are effective against viruses. The implication is that this could lead to more over-use of antibiotics and more drug-resistant bacteria.

    What surprised me the most is that fewer than half of respondents knew that electrons are smaller than atoms. That’s like asking if your arm is bigger than your entire body. But, I’m a chemist so I guess it’s just not as obvious to most people.

    I thought the questions were pretty easy, but I don’t think we should look down on people who “only” got 10 or 11 right. I can see how some people wouldn’t know the definition of stem cells or lasers if they’re not interested in those fields.

  25. Got 12 out of 12. High School graduate. No college. But then, I’m a 46 y.o. man who (unlike many of his contemporaries in his region of the world) didn’t spend his 20s and 30s obsessively watching football and NASCAR and developing a proud beer-belly.

    Then again, everyone says it was too easy… so maybe there really is nothing to be proud of.

  26. Doesn’t this suggest that a significant proportion of quiz-takers are intentionally giving wrong answers (always a danger with open internet surveys)? And therefore that they actually do know the answer, and therefore the number of people who know it is (statistically) significantly higher than 47%?

    The other possibility is that there was more than 2 answers (there were), so the old magic 50% random guessing meme doesn’t hold.

    Thankfully this wasn’t a math test, it might have brought us old readers of Laden’s blog back down with the masses.

  27. “So, excuse my ignorance, but I thought a melting glacier could cause a tsunami… not directly, obviously, but I thought I remembered hearing something that like if a large piece of a glacier breaks off into a bay… or maybe that was a landslide.”

    You are right, something like a mountain of ice crashing into the sea can cause a Tsunami, as could a massive landslide crashing into the sea, especially locally. However, such events are very rare, most Tsunamis are caused by earthquakes.

  28. Another thing which might account in part for some of the low scores is people who lack confidence in their knowledge/best guess assuming that there are trick answers: “It can’t be that one because it’s too obvious.”

    Also, some folk might disagree with the question on continental drift. (Of course, most of those would probably be too dumb to get a good score anyway.)

  29. SimonG: Funny, “continental drift” is the pejorative name for the theory of plate tectonics, akin perhaps to calling natural selection “darwinism” (or “the species drift heresy”). Funnier, “big bang” started out the same way, but stuck, so now advocates have to call it that too.

  30. James and Sailor: A melting continental glacier that happens to shed a whopping big frag of ice can absolutely cause a tsunami. Therefore, the question is flawed, though the earthquake is “the best answer. Any reasonably experienced intro college science teacher would have seen that one coming a mile. I think it is actually a reflection on the fact that society is about to collapse that there are several flawed questions in this ‘study.’

  31. Hey, I’m an earth science guy and I don’t consider “continental drift” bad! Is there a prize for getting them all correct? Is there a prize for a particular number that you answer incorrectly?

    I kill my physics seniors with questions about tides and seasons, and many of them don’t have a good grasp of “earth science”. In my town (and state) we have relegated that subject to the minor leagues, since we don’t have any graduation requirements that include that subject. (my town is home to the MBL)

  32. Grrr. This annoyed me. Their Mars question was pretty blatantly wrong. Of course there was only one answer listing something that has ever been found on Mars (water), but it is a misleading answer. Liquid water has not been discovered on Mars*. Water ice has been observed on Mars already decades ago (the Viking landers saw frost; water ice in the polar caps has long been known). It is not a new discovery in any sense. There has been serious advancement in the study of water as it existed billions of years ago on Mars, particularly by the rovers and orbiters. But in no way is it fair to say that water has been recently discovered on Mars.

    *Actually there is a controversial but plausible interpretation some scientists support that spherules imaged on the Phoenix lander’s legs were briny water melted by the lander’s rockets, which may have remained liquid for some time. But this isn’t naturally occurring liquid water, but rather an interaction of the lander’s rockets with naturally occurring polar ice.

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