Science & Society -- Science News, VOL. 149
June 8, 1996

In the 12th issue of NSF’S biennial SCIENCE & ENGINEERING INDICATORS published last week, Jon D. Miller and Linda Pifer of the Chicago Academy of Sciences unveil their updated survey on science literacy in the United States. Fewer than 10 percent of adults can describe a molecule beyond noting that it’s small. Only 20 percent can even minimally define DNA, and slightly fewer than half know that Earth rotates around the sun once a year.

Although almost one-quarter could explain correctly how chlorofluorocarbons were believed to contribute to the thinning of stratospheric ozone, only about half of these adults could describe reasonably well where in the atmosphere this thinning is taking place. Moreover, two-thirds were unable to explain the potential health risks of ozone thinning. Even fewer knew how acid rain forms (5 percent) and why it is of concern (2 percent), although most adults said they “oppose” acid rain.