Americans largely failed this simple science quiz

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Congratulations, America. It turns out that almost three-quarters of you know the difference between astronomy—the study of space and all its awesomeness (yes, that's a technical term)—and astrology, the pseudoscience of horoscopes.

That's according to a study published today by the Pew Research Center. But don't start celebrating just yet; as it turns out, our general knowledge of very basic science facts isn't stellar.

The researchers asked 3,278 people 12 picture-based or multiple choice questions about science, including what a light-year measures, what determines the loudness of sound, and that types of waves were used to make cell phone calls.


A mere 6% got a perfect score. Half of the respondents managed to answer more than eight questions correctly.  The rest got the equivalent of an F on the test. Yikes.

You can test out how you stack up to the average American here:

(No cheating! Don't scroll down until you've finished the quiz.)

See how your knowledge compares to the rest of America. Here's how Pew's test-takers fared on each question, per the report:


That's the sort of good news. Unfortunately, there were some stark differences when you broke things down by education level (as you might expect), gender, race and ethnicity:


Although the survey, by the researchers' own admission only tests a tiny sliver of scientific knowledge,  it could be indicative of bigger issues. Similar surveys conducted by Pew between 2006 and 2014 found the same patterns. For instance, whites answered an average of 6.1 out of 9 questions correctly, on average. Latinos and blacks answered 4.8 and 4.3 right, respectively.

There is a push right now to get more minorities and women into math, science and engineering fields, so it's important to make sure these groups are getting access to quality science education. Minority students often don't get the same level of education as their white counterparts. For example, a recent federal survey of the country's public schools found that:

Eighty-one percent (81%) of Asian-American high school students and 71% of white high school students attend high schools where the full range of math and science courses are offered (Algebra I, geometry, Algebra II, calculus, biology, chemistry, physics). However, less than half of American Indian and Native-Alaskan high school students have access to the full range of math and science courses in their high school. Black students (57%), Latino students (67%), students with disabilities (63%), and English language learner students (65%) also have less access to the full range of courses.


Government officials called the findings of that 2014 report "troubling."

A 2015 New York Times column also paints a dark picture. A breakdown by race and gender of employed scientists and engineers showed that a whopping 51% were white males; 20% were white women. The numbers trailed off from there. Just 4% and 2% were Hispanic men and women, respectively. Among blacks, it was 3% for the men and 2% for the women. That of course is not in the least reflective of current population statistics.


The Pew researchers posit that the results are due in part to these disparities.

One major drawback of the survey is that its questions focus mostly on physical sciences. There are few life science or health related questions—fields with which women tend to be more familiar. And it's from those fields that many of society's next big ethical debates are already emerging.


CRISPR, the powerful gene-editing technology that lets scientists swap out one gene for another, and genetically modified foods are just two of the contentious biological concepts that we're currently grappling with. The survey doesn't touch on these topics.

Another problem is that it focuses on facts rather than concepts. Just because you know what a DNA is doesn't mean you understand how it functions or why it's important. Or for instance, you can know that Jonas Salk invented vaccines. But does that mean you know how they work or why it's important that people get vaccinated? How many people actually understand that concept? If more did, perhaps fewer people would buy into the anti-vaxxer movement.


Daniela Hernandez is a senior writer at Fusion. She likes science, robots, pugs, and coffee.