Sunday, August 20, 2006

Of mice or men?

The state of genetic literacy in the United States is abysmal. The vast majority (68 percent) of 1484 U.S. respondents do not know that humans share more than half of their genes with mice. Roughly the same proportion of Americans (60 percent) do not agree that humans evolved from earlier species of animals:


Unfortunately, another question, addressing the similarity between humans and chimps, was too poorly written for any conclusions to be drawn, because among those answering ‘false’ would be those who believe humans have either more, or a lot less, than half of their DNA in common with chimpanzees.

Three of the survey questions (n=1484):
“More than half of human genes are identical to those of mice.” (True)
True: 32 % Not sure: 47 % False: 21 %

“Human beings have somewhat less than half of the DNA in common with chimpanzees.” (False)
True: 15 % Not sure: 48 % False: 38 %

“Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.” (True)
True: 40 % Not sure: 21 % False: 39 %
When genetic ignorance is the rule, it is not surprising that evolution would be taken as something to either believe in, or not, based upon one’s faith, because what else do the respondents have to go on?

There is a danger when belief and “feeling” are substituted for thinking and facts while addressing questions that examine the nature of reality. When faith is perceived as superior to reason, and ignorance is widespread, the Dark Ages cannot be far off.
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Miller, et al., Science, v313, p765-766
Supplementary on-line material: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/data/313/5788/765/DC1/1

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