Eppure si muove…or does it?
Just got an email reminder from the ICPSR data archive yesterday that the 2006 GSS data are out and ready to play with. Always curious to know what’s happening with my favorite survey of the attitudes and behaviors of the American population I looked around the codebook to see what was new for 2006. Among the highlights, there is (1) a module designed to estimate global characteristics of the social networks of the American population using a cutting edge method based on asking people questions of the type: “How many people do you know…(named Jeff, in Prison, who can do a somersault, who eat hamburgers, etc. [see Zheng et al 2006] and see also a copy of the proposal of the GSS module designed to measure “network polarization” in the American population in order to see if it is related to “cultural polarization”) and (2) a “science” module designed to measure the scientific knowledge of the American population. My guess is that (1) will produce the most fascinating and scientifically interesting results, and (2) will of course provide fodder for the constant complaints (and jokes) about the utter mental dullness of the population.
A case in point is the following. The GSS folk actually made the mistake of asking the following question as part of their science module:
Now, does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth?
Here we go. Now what follows is real social science data folks. No joking around:
Earth around sun 73.6%
Sun around earth 18.3%
Don’t Know 8.0%
Yes. More than a fifth of the American population does not think (or are not quite sure) that they live in Copernicus’ heliocentric solar system. Is this a glass half-full or glass half empty thing? Well, those glass half-full people might say, almost three-quarters of the population got the right answer. But the GSS questionnaire designers conspire against your carefree optimism half-glass full guy or gal. Among those who were up to date with seventeenth-century Galilean basic science, they actually dared to ask the follow-up question:
How long does it take for the Earth to go around the Sun: one day, one month, or one year?
One day 19.0%
One month 1.1%
One year 71.2%
Other time period 0.1%
Don’t Know 8.5%
Barring that guy who categorically refused to answer the question, we are again faced with the result that a full one-fifth of those in the American population who are aware that the earth revolves around the sun are in their turn unable to distinguish the earth’s rotation around its axis from a full revolution around the sun. Poor Galileo; talk about reason to turn in your grave.