NSEC-funded Pete Ladwig recently won Honorable Mention in the Midwest Association for Public Opinion Research (MAPOR) Fellows Student Paper Competition.
Ladwig, a UW-Madison Masters student in the Life Sciences Communication department, is a project assistant in NSEC’s Societal Implications group, which is headed by LSC’s Assistant Professor Dominique Brossard.
The paper examined differences in knowledge between science topics that carry a religious or moral component and those that do not, as measured by true/false knowledge items in surveys. Recently, the NSF’s 2010 Science and Engineering Indicators (SEI) omitted a discussion of American’s knowledge of evolution and the big bang, claiming that those two knowledge survey items tap into individuals’ beliefs rather than literacy of the topics.
Critics have disagreed, however, saying that the true/false questions concerning evolution and the big bang are still valid measures of scientific understanding and literacy.
Ladwig’s study found that knowledge of science topics carrying a moral component does indeed depend on one’s religious and ideological beliefs more so than science knowledge that does not carry such a component.
The link between science knowledge carrying a moral component and an understanding of the scientific process varied over political ideology as well.
Although this study showed that science knowledge depends on individual religiosity and ideology, this last finding suggests that education emphasizing the scientific process may result in greater public acceptance of evolution and the big bang.
The question remains if it was appropriate for the 2010 SEI editors to omit a discussion of controversial science and literacy or if this topic should be directly addressed, which may effect change in future science education policy.
Pete Ladwig will be presenting his findings at MAPOR’s annual conference held in Chicago, IL on November 19, 2010.