Now, more than ever, science is intricately woven into the fabric of our daily lives—and it's as easy as it has ever been to take science for granted.
For example, when the Pew Research Center asked 3278 American adults 12 basic science questions, only 6 percent were able to successfully answer each one. (If you'd like to see how you stack up before we spoil the answers, you can take the quiz here.) The encouraging news is that most participants answered more questions right than wrong. Eighty-six percent of those surveyed were able to identify the earth’s core as its hottest layer, and 82 percent of people knew that uranium was the element needed to make nuclear materials. Less encouragingly, only 35 percent of participants knew that amplitude determines the loudness of a sound wave and 34 percent correctly answered that water boils at a lower temperature in higher altitudes.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, people who had earned college or graduate degrees performed better than those without them. There were also notable differences between certain age groups. Eighty percent of 18- to 29-year-olds knew that radio waves transmit cell phone calls compared to only 57 percent of people over 65 who answered correctly. But when it came to a question about the developer of the polio vaccine, the over-65 population beat the 18- to 25-year-olds 86 percent to 68 percent.
The Pew Research Center's website stresses that many scholars agree that "public understanding of science issues and concepts is a hallmark of an informed public." As new technology develops faster each year, public knowledge of the principles behind the science we use is more important than ever before. So if you still don't know how light passes through a magnifying glass, the answer is just a Google search away.