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back to article Science-boosting thickie questionnaire backfires

A new survey has apparently proved that American scientific organisations, when it comes to scientific knowledge, are operating at roughly the intellectual level of cheese rind. The latest watch-out-thickies-or-economic-doom-will-befall-us-all effort comes from the California Academy of Sciences. In a telephone poll of US adults …

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wrong target, again.

Actually, I don't blame the scientists. I blame the uneducated marketing idiots they've hired to do idiotic surveys like this without sufficient oversight. I can pretty much guarantee that actual "scientists" are probably being pushed out of the actually running of the society by more and more "management" people who probably barely know how to spell science, let alone do any of it.

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Boffin

Lies, damned lies...

and statistics.

It's all in the way you set up the questions.

You can *prove* anything with statistics, you just have to ask the *right* (or in this case, the *wrong*) questions.

Statistics is not, IMHO, a science. Its an art. A bit like magic. Looks impressive if done well, but deep down you just KNOW it's all smoke and mirrors.

Which is just another term for Bullshit!

Goggle guy, closest statistics will come to real science.

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Joke

Those who don't study the past...

Only 59% of adults know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time.

Yah, everyone knows it was together about 6K years ago. Come on, mates; what's up with that question?

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Alien

And....

"Only 59% of adults know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time." - ye-es, and a significant portion of the rest 'know' that dinosaurs never existed at all/ clearly only existed because God thought he'd give early man some playmates.

As long as you're fighting against the battering ram of religious belief, you're going to struggle....

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Silver badge

Education in the US

Education in the US has been on the decline for decades. Kids aren't taught to think anymore. And here we are, cutting billions more out of the education budget ... If I were a conspiracy theorist, I'd suspect that the gubmint was doing it on purpose ... An under-educated population is far more likely to believe anything politicians or clergy shovel at them.

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Boffin

Validate your surveys

This is exactly the kind of problem that you can get around by doing a quick pre-test. You should definitely pretest anything that goes to a heterogeneous external audience, for more than a handful of people, or where the results will be of value.

I recently validated a questionaire of 5 questions for 6 trainees, which resulted in rewriting one question, and allowing one different answer. I gave the test to 3 expert colleagues over a 10 minute coffee break, and we discussed why the answers weren't always the ones I expected.

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Reassuringly expensive

Whenever the temptation to whinge about nanny statism or excessive tax or civil service inefficiency arises EU citizens can always look to America for contrast and consolation.

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Black Helicopters

Conspiracy Theory...

The survey may be idiotic, but I don't believe the marketing types are uneducated. If you're a lobby group, that wants to 'prove' that adults don't know how much of the earth is covered by water, asking the question this way is a damn fine way to go about it.

Getting the answer wrong yourself is a little embarassing though. Wikipedia probably says somewhere that it's 70%.

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Thumb Down

The question isn't indicative of general scientific ability

The question singled out here by el reg isn't indicative of scientific ability at all.

I have a BsC and A grade A-levels in 2 science subjects. However the accuracy to which I knew the coverage of the earth by ocean was in the region of 2 3rds.

More than accurate enough I believe for my day to day life, but (if the survey itself had been correct) meaning that I'd have chosen the wrong answer.

What kind of biased surveyor do you have to be to put two of the options within 1% of the correct answer?

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Boffin

Wrong ranges

Even if their answer was correct, their ranges would mean marking someone who was low by 9% as right and someone who was high by 1% as wrong. Which is ridiculous.

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Is ice water?

They're on dodgy ground about saying three percent of the water on the earth is fresh as well, more than 2/3 of this is actually ice and my dictionary says water is a colourless liquid. Using that definition 1% is the correct answer.

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Paris Hilton

But how many of them offered the surveyors candy?

http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2008-12-10/

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Boffin

i can has smarts?

pft. like us Brits would fare any better.

*wikipedia's % of earths surface covered in water* ...huh.... well what you know. even some people with a doctorate in physics don't know that. *votes for pi to 10dp to be on questionaire instead*

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Flame

Even if 70% WAS correct...

Those who selected 71-80 did not "roughly approximate" the correct answer?

Two things: "approximate" means not exact, "roughly" means not all that close.

Stupid stupid stupid press release, even dumber quiz to put up options where the "correct" answer is on the bubble. They did the same thing on the "fresh water" question later in the test.

I hope to Darwin that the telephone poll didn't match the online poll.

I weep that a hometown institution (I'm in the Bay Area) would fail so spectacularly at such a simple task.

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Flawed reasoning

Raving angry loony above has it right. The flaw isn't that the answer is 71 and not 70. The flaw is that whoever designed the test doesn't have a clue about how to design tests. I suspect that if you went to an oceanographic conference and polled the attendees, most would not know the answer to within one percent. When I read the question my first thought was "about three quarters, maybe a bit less." - which turns out to be not too bad. I would have got the question right for no particualrly good reason. The first two questions are primary school level basic science knowledge. The last one was posed in such a way as to essentially guarantee that the rate of correct answers was halved, simply by putting the correct answer on the boundary between two selections. That is a significant problem. Worse, was assuing that people should know the answer to one percent accuracy. People don't, and nor should they be expected to do so to be considered to know the basics of Earth geography.

Another flaw (also present in Lewis' reasoning) is that the answer isn't a round number of percent. To the an additional decimal point of precision it seems that the answer is 70.9. So the clueless idiot who put together the test probably though that 70 is the right answer, having failed primary school arithmetic when it came to rounding.

Then again, by creating such a basically flawed test the organisation gets some numbers that show that the average adult is even thicker, so maybe this was a cycical design intended to depress the results. But I rather doubt it.

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PJ

70 or 71%

Yeah right but when the tide goes out its only 70% isn't it because there's more beach?

And anyway everyone knows the earth is only about 4000 years old and we killed the dinosaurs because they didn't believe in God.

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not sure

I wonder how many people picked "Not sure" when they really were, execpt they feared a trick question. If they gave the survey again without "Not sure" as an answer and 65-75% as one of the valid ranges for the water question, what the results would be. This is a science org trying to push science money, I'm sure there is no bias there.

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They've fixed the range.

They've fixed the range given on the website so it's now bracketed the correct answer better. And they fixed the answer they give afterwards to say "71%".

Still, when they conducted the phone poll, did they only give people who said "70%" as correct? What about people who said two-thirds? Or three-quarters? They're each common estimates given, and roughly equidistant from the correct answer.

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Anonymous Coward

IQ in america means Idiot Quotient

I have a better questionaire.

Please read all questions carefully before answering!

Be Honest!

Q1) Can you find your ass with both hands?

A) Only with Satnav

B) Im too fat, my arms dont reach

C) I dont own a small donkey

Q2) What is Pi

a) I dont like Pie

b) roughly 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510 ish

c) Apples

Q3) How much Fast food do you eat

a) Way too much

b) Life threatening amounts

c) I have a pain in my left arm

Q4) Which of these countries hates America

a) France

b) Mexico

c) Pretty much all of them.

Q5 Did you read all the questions before answering?

Thank you for reading all questions carefully before starting, Please to not answer these questions unless you are a Moron!

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lmao

Quiz has been updated to the following:

Question #3

What percentage of the Earth’s surface is covered by water?

* 0-25%

* 26-50%

* 51-65%

* 66-75%

* 76-85%

* 86-100%

* Not sure

* Cal Academy is a bunch of gits

(ok I added the last one)

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Black Helicopters

To top it off...

... El Reg themselves offered me a survey when I went to this article. I declined, but if it comes up again, I may take it just to see how accurate they are!

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Interestingly...

...they've now changed the options, presumably to cover their tracks after this article. There is now a 66-75% option.

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Bronze badge

It's not just the US that's failing youngsters

A year or three ago, when I was musing about the dumbing down of science, I posed a question to a small number of youngsters:

"Given that the diameter of the Earth is approximately 8,000 miles, if you plot the position at which the sun is directly overhead at the equator, roughly how fast does this move?" (A: 3 x 8 ./ 24 => 1,000 miles per hour)

What was troubling was not that they didn't know, but that they didn't seem to have the means to begin to conceptualise the question.

"Lack of basic scientific knowledge" isn't the problem. To the contrary, it is the idea that science is about facts that is at the root of the problem.

Science is increasingly being taught as a series of facts, where possible those that can be assessed on the basis of multliple choice questions. In the process the spirit of enquiry and scientific curiosity is being neutered.

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2 3rds?

yeah, in school i was taught planet earth was covered in roughly a bit more than two thirds water... as far as i recall :?)

any way i look at this, all i have to say at this time is

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

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Anonymous Coward

Hmmm

Thing is all these questions are dubious.

The earth takes one solar year to orbit the sun by definition, but there are leap years, and there is the extra second of the millennium.

% of earth covered by water, well there is dew, rain and snow, along with decadent Perrier water fights, and sewer systems 70% seems like the % that are the oceans.

Dinosaurs and humans? How does anyone know? No one was around at the time who is here to report about it. And aren't some birds from the diplo and tyranus time, and so technically the earliest humans and dinosaurs did live together.

see stupid questions, you may as well ask what a clockwork orange looks like.

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Sam

Are you sure about that 71% ?

Hey look - the tide's out!

I bet we're down to about 65% now - maybe only 64%.

What about when it's raining heavily? There are times when everything's underwater around here.

They just don't think this stuff through, do they.

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Re: Is ice water?

Yes: It is water in its solid form, caused by freezing. In other words, "ice" is just the name for solid, frozen water.

-dZ.

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Bronze badge

@Pondule

An interesting point, especially as I guessed that only 1% of the Earths' water was fresh. My excuse is that they are using an inconsistent definition of water. The 71% figure (they've now corrected it) does not include Antarctica, which is permanently almost wholly covered in ice. The same is true of much of Greenland and some parts of far northern Canada. To this we could added a few of the permanently ice-covered parts of various mountain ranges. So that should either count as water (pushing up the 71% by a few points). If course working the other way, they are counting floating sea ice as part of the water covered count.

So, as they are not qualifying the state of the water, they ought to be working consistently one way or the other.

So what is the answer - I've confused myself.

Nb. it's not just this mob that gets things wrong - in a recent article, New Scientist claimed that the Earth turns on its axis in one solar day. It doesn't.

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Paris Hilton

Maybe they read The Reg?

It looks like they have "updated" their answer. It now says the answer is 71%!!

Also, they have updated their choice ranges as well:

0-25%

26-50%

51-65%

66-75%

76-85%

86-100%

Not sure

But their phone survey results should still earn a big FAIL.

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Stop

They are still touting their phone survey!

Although they have corrected their answer from 70% to 71% and changed their choice ranges, they are still touting their phone survey results...

"71% of the Earth surface is covered by water. Only 47% of U.S. adults surveyed could roughly approximate this answer."

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Happy

Seems they read El Reg...

66%-75% - and the right answer is now 71%

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Coat

I think I see the logic here...

Since 71 - 80% includes the exact figure it cannot be roughly correct. Therefore 61 - 70% is the range which answers the question correctly! (roughly...)

My coat is the one with leaky pockets.

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there is a lack of due dillegence here

This article is unfinished.

The California academy of sciences is a big organization, and primarily actually a museum. Which part of the organization oked originated or funded the study? For all we know this could have been a 7th grade science class project using the museum website. Museums, especially teaching museums have been known to do that kind of thing for schools.

Finish your research and complete the article please.

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How do they know?

"Only 59% of adults know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time."

Really? I would guess that ZERO percent know that. Unless they're saying that 59% of the people surveyed were among those "earliest humans", or unless they're using an unusual definition of "know". Since we're talking so many thousands/millions of years, it's safe to say that we don't know. We can make guesses based on fossils and carbon dating, but that's all they are -- guesses. Unless, of course, your god told you.

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Bronze badge

Wrong answer to the question

"In fact, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, "the ocean covers 71 per cent of the Earth's surface", so you ought to get it right by selecting 71-80, not 61-70"

I'd point out the question, according to the article, was how much was "covered with water", not "covered with oceans". The answer to the second question would technically not include seas, lakes, rivers, etc... And what about Antarctica. Is it considered "covered with" (albeit frozen) "water"?

My "guess" would be that ~80% of the world is covered in water in some shape or form.

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Unwarrented 'dig'

Your dig about the US population having the intelligence 'cheese rind' is patently unfair to cheese.

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Dead Vulture

And the correct answer is....

If you read the Wikipedia article and the OAA article it states "About 71% of the surface is covered with salt-water oceans" This is not the answer to the question "How much of the Earth is covered by water?" It excludes lake and rivers, which are freshwater.

The correct answer is 74%

http://www.cdli.ca/CITE/water.htm

Even Reg writers make mistakes.

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Go

As A Former Science Teacher

This doesn't surprise me. It also doesn't surprise me the test has never been validated. It's one thing to test subject matter and another to test one's ability to take tests.

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Unhappy

Lucky the answer isn't...

I was going to pick 75.5%, but there isn't an option for that answer.

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Coat

We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!

@AC 20:21

Sounds like someone missed the lesson on approximation and reasonable accuracy. Would you prefer the option of "one year, plus one day and one second or minus one second"?

Sure, the ancestors of humans existed at the same time as dinosaurs, but they weren't humans (homo sapiens / pans narrans, take your pick).

@Chris C

I know that the earliest humans didn't coexist with dinosaurs for the same reason I know the earth goes round the sun in one year, rain is wet, and politicians lie - evaluation of the available evidence.

@David Pollard

I like your comment. Parroting facts gets in the way of understanding.

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God botherers club of Texas

God made everything, therefore he made dino-saurs and people. I'm perty sure I saw some of them dino-saurs on the Flintstones once. QED.

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Paris Hilton

@Neil Charles

'Wikipedia probably says somewhere that it's 70%.'

Wikipedia probably says that 5% of the earth's surface is covered in chocolate too (if it doesn't yet, it will soon)

Paris, Now offering online quiz design services.

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Tim

dinosaur=terrible lizard=crocodile

Dinosaurs were "terrible lizards" and the crocodile would have qualified for dinosaur status had it died out, but it didnt, so we call it a crocodile, rather than "crocosaurus".

So to me, just because we name something a dinosaur or not, we are living at the same time as one of the most successful now!

That survey was a "crocoshitus"!

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Paris Hilton

water coverage

I think the 'original' survey is NEXT year's version, by 2012 it will be 72%...

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Coat

It's Friday.

If we all go out on the lash tonight, get utterly bladdered and then collectively relieve ourselves al fresco, do you think that between us we can get this up to 72%?

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According to the US EPA

It's actually 80% :

http://www.epa.gov/gmpo/edresources/water_5.html

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Boffin

Better way of answering the question

A text box.

This way you will discover :-

Some don't know that percentages are between 0 and 100.

Some don't know that percentages are numbers.

Some geeks answer in Hex.

Some think that text boxes are places to try SQL injection attacks.

Some are even more pedantic than the "what about ice and fresh water?" folks and consider the few ppm of water vapour in the atmosphere to be a criterion for being covered by, thus raising the number to close to 100%.

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Dead Vulture

What's with the tides?

Tides are generated by the gravitational effect of the Moon, right? So, wherever there's a high tide on one side of the planet, there's a low tide on the other? So doesn't that mean that on average, there's probably not much difference in planetary water coverage due to tides?

It's easy to poke fun at people isn't it... Watch out Reg, don't make the articles too hard or the advertisers will think you've only got thickos as readers.

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Boffin

Re: Lies, damned lies ...

and arithmetic.

It's all in the way you set up the questions.

You can *prove* anything with arithmetic, you just have to ask the *right* (or in this case, the *wrong*) questions.

Arithmetic is not, IMHO, a science. Its an art. A bit like magic. Looks impressive if done well, but deep down you just KNOW it's all smoke and mirrors.

Which is just another term for Bullshit!

Goggle guy, closest arithmetic will come to real science.

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Confused by evolution

So if we didn't evolve from something around when the dinosaurs were around were did it come from? Aliens?

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