Are Republicans largely anti-science, or just largely ignorant? We report, you decide.

Aug 07 2009 Published by under Geology

A friend just pointed me to this... illuminating bit of polling data on the Daily Kos website:

QUESTION: Do you believe that America and Africa were once part of the same continent?

24% of Republican respondents answered "yes". 47% answered no.

That's right - Republicans rejected plate tectonics by about a 2:1 margin. Words seriously fail me at this point.

18 responses so far

  • JohnV says:

    Well, do you think if you asked "do you believe in plate tectonic theory" the results would have been the same? I guess what I'm asking is what percent of republicans are familiar with the concept but not its specifics?
    Granted, everything being one continent isn't a minute detail or anything...

  • Dave X says:

    The next lowest (pen-nadir?) demographic groups are also interesting: 32% for "South" and 35% for "White" respondents.

  • MikeMa says:

    I suspect they are so wrapped up in their "America is Special" concept that the GOP would strongly resist being told that what is now Africa and America ever shared anything. That and a general distrust of science spreading in the US should bury any facts very nicely.
    Sadly, the Dems were better but not a very good show at 51% yes. Oh, well.

  • cicely says:

    IMO, it's both. They are anti-science because of the implications for their religiously-biased worldview, and therefore deliberately refuse (I started to say 'decline', but I'm convinced that in at least some cases, it's more than just passively "not looking") to educate their ignorance.

  • NoAstronomer says:

    Presumably the other 29% think that America is still attached to Iran.
    (it's an old joke).

  • alias Ernest Major says:

    I don't think that you can reasonably expect the average American to be familiar with details of palaeogeography (over on talk.origins one person knew that South America was once next to Africa, but forgot that the south east US also was once next to Africa (apart from the parts that were part of Africa). Compared to thinking that the Sun orbits the Earth, this is a relatively small lack of scientific knowledge.
    But I agree that the political and racial variation in the answers is striking.
    But it is the other survey is really shocking. Less that half of Republicans and less that half of Southerners believe that their President was born in their country.

  • cope says:

    I agree with Ernest about the level of detail of the question.
    How about if they had been asked if North America and Western Europe had once been part of the same continent? My guess is that there would have been a higher percentage of "yes" respondents.

  • Donna B. says:

    It's possible that scientifically illiterate people are also politically ignorant and couldn't tell you a thing about what "their" party proposes or stands for.
    For example, I have come across message boards of union members advocating for the harshest immigration laws, yet declaring unwavering support for the Democratic party.

  • Donna B. says:

    AND... it's just as huge a mistake to think a conservative is automatically a Republican as it is to think a liberal is automatically a Democrat. OR, that anyone identifying themselves as a member of either party support everything the party supports.
    It's a special mistake to think that every Democrat or every Republican thinks alike.

  • Schroeder says:

    I think it’s surprising that blacks and latinos have such dramatically higher knowledge about plate tectonics. This is not due to racism, but rather the common socioeconomic background of blacks and latinos that presently makes them less likely to be highly educated. Also, blacks and latinos are often Christian, which would lead them to believe the world is about 6,000 years old (which is certainly why many republicans reject the theory of plate tectonics). Any ideas about why they seem to have such strong scientific conviction?

  • ken from ca says:

    I think the poll points out something quite different. It actually shows that our educational system is a massive failure. An even sadder point is that we paid more for that education than in any other country and learned demonstrably less by far.
    When I attended a Dutch university in economics the first-day freshman math topic for nonscience was data modeling with n-dimensional Laplace transformations. As a physics student in the US, I didn't get to this kind of math until the last year and some were only exposed to it in post-graduate studies. My daughter in Holland studied integral calculus at age nine not grade nine and wasn't in a special program. Dutch authorities think that students in their school system are about 7 to 9 years ahead of ours in educational capability.
    In response to Ernest Major.
    The KOS poll seem to indicate that some 80 million Americans either believe that Obama wasn't naturally born or don't know if he was naturally born. In either case that's about 25% of the whole population that is unconvinced. I don't know what the truth is, but it isn't smart to bet against that many questioners without at least discovering what has them going. Maybe, you might consider it's not just an idiotic point (and I'm not saying its true). Many people feel that Barak Obama lied significantly about himself during the campaign. When the documents put on the web by the DNC was proven to be from later than 1972 and was not a birth certificate, it didn't help; when his Kenyan grandmother and other family members testified that he was born in Kenya it didn't help, when his US grandmother and mother at different times said he was born at at different hospitals in Hawaii it didn't help, when His school registrations in Indonesia indicate he was muslim and an Indonesian national it doesn't help.
    Look, even John McCain had to get the matter cleared up. The difference is that McCain, himself, brought the matter up and presented both proof of what was true and then asked for a clarifying vote of congress.
    Furthermore, even if any question about this topic is unrealistic and stupid, calling people "birthers" is equivalent to the use of every other prejorative and prejudiced term for people. I thought, when I worked for Eugene McCarthy in the 60s, that the point to liberal thinking was that the liberal consciousness was evolved and sought an end to sexist, racist and derogatory typecasting terms like, "faggot, beaner, or birther." Isn't that why we are, by Presidential order, now calling Islamic Terrorism "Anti-Islamic Activity." BTW, I speak arabic, have been all over the middle-east and a vast number of all those educated in Islamic schools have become ardent "Anti-islamic activists".
    If science is a program for testing rational thinking, then one problem the comments here often share is their prejudice about faith. I know hundreds, have met thousands and know that there are hunderds of millions of science educated people who believe in God.
    Its a little like the argument over global warming. There are actually more scientists that don't believe it is man-made carbon-emissions that are causing it. The sun has done this before, just not within our recorded history. When I was in Antarctica, scientists there were just discovering that high carbon levels have occured a number of times and are not all strongly correlated with high temperture cycles. So belief is still at the heart of scientific explanation. Even though science is good at getting rid of the verifyably bad hypothesis, it doesn't and isn't able to prove the validity of any proposition. So its still belief. Actually Richard Feynman taught me that.

  • dean says:

    Ken from ca:
    I really don't see anything in your post that is reasonable enough to be true. Have any proof for any of it?

  • abb3w says:

    The GSS variable CONDRIFT suggests it's more like 10% who are ignorant of or rejecting plate tectonics entirely. Running against POLVIEWS, the fixed-earthers break down about 20-30-50 liberal-moderate-conservative, while those who accept break down 28-37-35.
    Interestingly, the line-up is much sharper for POLVIEWS than for PARTYID; the "strong Democrats" have significant dumbass brigades in the Mountain, E. Nor. Central, Middle Atlantic, and South Atlantic regions (REGION 8, 3, 2, 5).

  • SLC says:

    Re ken from ca
    There are a number of misstatements in Mr. kens' comment that should be pointed out.
    1. The Certificate of Live Birth that has been posted all over the internet is the document that will be sent to an individual requesting a copy of his/her birth certificate from the State of Hawaii. This document is an official document from the State of Hawaii and recognized by the Federal Government and state governments and is sufficient to obtain a passport and drivers license and to register to vote.
    2. The statement that relatives of Obamas' father residing in Kenya have stated that he was born there is false. There is a tape recording of an interview with a woman who, contrary to the birthers' claims is not Obamas' grandmother but another of his paternal grandfathers 4 wives. The interview that has been posted has been truncated so that several statements by the woman which unequivocally state that Obama was born in Hawaii have been edited out.
    3. Apparently, Obama stated on one of his books that he was born in Queens Medical Center. He was incorrect in this statement. He was born in the Kapi'olani Medical Center for Women & Children in Honolulu.
    http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/birthcertificate.asp
    Note that the article in snopes reprints a statement from a teacher in Honolulu who was acquainted with the obstetrician who actually delivered Obama in that hospital.
    4. Mr. ken states that more scientists reject the theory of anthropomorphic global warming then accept it. Totally false. Almost none of the denialists have any expertise in climate studies and the few that do are associated with industry run think tanks like the Heartland Institute and the George Marshall Foundation. The Heartland Institute was originally set up by the tobacco companies to put out propaganda disputing the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer; the George Marshall Foundation was set up to provide propaganda disputing government regulation efficacy.

  • mark says:

    To be fair, though, the poll should have first asked people to find America and Africa on a world map.

  • Stacy K says:

    @ken from ca #11:
    "about 25% of the whole population [is] unconvinced. I don't know what the truth is, but it isn't smart to bet against that many questioners without at least discovering what has them going."
    Argumentum ad populum. The popularity of the idea is irrelevant to its claim to truth. Close to half of the American public believes that biblical creation stories are a explanation for the origin of human life. I'm betting against 'em.

  • J says:

    Willfully ignorant,anti science,intellectualism,education,rationality. A stupid populace is an easily to control one. I learned plate tectonics,Pangaea in elementary school.
    The very act of having to convince someone that the president was born in the US is telling. They are either stupid,brainwashed or ignorant. Which it seems this country is becoming. US news is nothing but propaganda. Government is owned by banks,lobbyists. Over 40 congressmen were caught reading the same speech written by a biotech company that received billions in government funds. The list goes on.
    The last 8 years or so showed just how dangerous a stupid populace is to democracy.

  • Nelson says:

    Bush and his cronies certainly TALKED a good game about being for "regular Americans", then knifed them in the back. 67% of the Bush tax cuts went to the wealthiest 10% of Americans. Minimal regulation of Wall Stree and banks put us in a financial black hole. The 2 off-budget wars (Iraq, Afghanistan) they started were the final coup d-etat.
    AND, abortion is still legal, evolution is still taught in schools, prayers cannot be said in schools, gay marriage is legal in many states, and the vast majority of Americans today are poorer than in 1999.
    The sophisticated Republican elite (the mega-wealthy, large corporations, the banking and finance sector) has been playing the honest, but naive social conservatives and Tea-baggers like fiddles for many years playing on issues like abortion and "intelligent design".
    It's time to face up to the facts: you are not in "their" club and never will be. They see you as prey to be exploited.