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Carelessness About Facts

In the Age of American Unreason, Susan Jacoby reports on American ignorance. Unfortunately, she inadvertently illustrates American carelessness regarding facts by stating:

A 1998 survey by researchers from the University of Texas found that one out of four public school biology teachers believes that humans and dinosaurs inhabited the earth simultaneously.
- Susan Jacoby, The Age of American Unreason, 2008, p. 25


Her citation for this (on p. 319) is "George E. Webb, The Evolution Controversy in America (Lexington, Ky., 1994), p. 254". It is implausible that a book published in 1994 would report on a survey conducted in 1998. What p. 254 of Webb's book actually says is:

Researchers from the University of Texas at Arlington polled four hundred biology instructors throughout the nation and found that only a quarter had biology degrees. ... The Arlington researchers also found that one-third of biology teachers either believed that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time or were not sure.
- George E. Webb, The Evolution Controversy in America, p. 254


How Jacoby derived "one out of four... believes that humans and dinosaurs inhabited the earth simultaneously" from "one-third... either believed that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time or were not sure" is a mystery.

Webb's page 254 actually cites the Nashville Tennessean, 11. Sept. 1988, a decade earlier than Jacoby says.

It is discouraging to find such bad logic and carelessness in someone who is trying to call attention to Americans' mental deficiencies.

A search turned up the following references that appear to report on the cited survey, in "ERIC ED430811: Annotated Bibliography of Materials Relating to the Evolution-Creationism Controversy."

Eve, Raymond A. and Dana L. Dunn. (1988). Pseudoscientific beliefs among a national survey of high school science teachers. American Sociological Association.

A report on the results of a national questionnaire survey of a random sample of high school biology and life science teachers (N = approximately 300) drawn from the National Register of Science Teachers. The questionnaire was designed to tap respondents’ opinions regarding their belief in a wide variety of controversial scientific “facts,” e.g. ancient astronauts, lost continents, and scientific creationism. In addition, methodological innovation was used to improve assessment of actual certitude of belief. Attention is given to the prevalence of pseudoscientific beliefs in the sample, whether these beliefs are presented in class and, if so, under what circumstances and for what reasons. The holding of particular beliefs and the willingness to teach them in class are so, under what circumstances & for what reasons. The holding of particular beliefs and the willingness to teach them in class are related to a variety of background variables, including demographic factors, educational training, and views of science in general.

Report available from the authors at the Department of Sociology, University of Texas, Arlington, TX 76019.


Eve, Raymond A. and Dana Dunn (1990). “Psychic powers, astrology & creationism in the classroom?” American Biology Teacher 52( 1): 1 0-2 1 .

Examined is the extent to which teachers actually hold pseudoscientific beliefs. Described are the study design, sources of pseudoscientific belief, and correlates with various types of pseudoscientific beliefs. Results indicate that many high school biology and life science teachers endorse these beliefs. Implications of this study are discussed.



More about the latter at http://abt.ucpress.edu/content/52/1/1-0.full.pdf+html, which gives the reference as Psychic Powers, Astrology & Creationism in the Classroom? Evidence of Pseudoscientific Beliefs among High School Biology & Life Science Teachers
Raymond A. Eve, Dana Dunn
The American Biology Teacher, Vol. 52 No. 1, Jan., 1990; (pp. 10-21) DOI: 10.2307/4449018

As of 4/12/2017 the full pdf is at https://libres.uncg.edu/ir/uncg/f/D_Dunn_Psychic_1990.pdf.



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