Posts about USA

Pew Science and Technology Knowledge Quiz

The Pew Science and Technology Knowledge Quiz is a simple 13 question quiz to get a very simple look at scientific understanding in society. Obviously these types of quizes are just extremely simple views, still it is interesting to see how you can do and what questions people struggle with.

graphic showing 13 of 13 answers correct

graph showing distribution of correct answers by those taking the quiz

I am surprised the fewer than 50% of the people got 2 true or false questions correct, including “Electrons are smaller than atoms. Is this statement…” Looking back at my previous post, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, in the 2009 Pew Science Knowledge Quiz it is also the case that under 50% got the are electrons smaller than atoms question right.

They also provided a breakdown by demographic factors. Men had better percentages of correct answers, for the 2 true or false questions men were correct 55% of the time while women got 40% correct. The two other true of false questions had much higher correct answer rates 77% (83% for men 72% for women) and 66% (70 for men, 63 for women).

There was also a substantial tendency for the youngest ages to do better and the performance to decline for each age group. I am not surprised by the question answered incorrectly most often (only 20% got it right), see if you can guess which it is.

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The Eagle Has Landed

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldren land on the moon: July 20, 1969. As Neil Armstrong took humanity’s first step onto the Moon he said:

That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

Related: Experiment, dropping a hammer and feather on the MoonPlanetary scientist Jennifer Heldmann discusses the MoonApply to be an AstronautOne Giant Leap For Mankind

Mountain Lions Returning to the Midwest USA for the First Time in a Century

Cougars Are Returning to the U.S. Midwest after More Than 100 Years by John Platt

Cougars once lived throughout most of the U.S. and Canada but state-sponsored bounties put in place to protect livestock and humans from what were often deemed “undesirable predators” led to the cats’ extermination in the east and Midwest.

Things started to turn around for the cougar in the 1960s and 70s when, one by one, the bounties were rescinded and states made the animals a managed-game species. Today they are classified as game species in most states and a “specially protected mammal” in California. This allowed their populations first to grow and then to expand their territories.

Cougars are generalist predators, so LaRue says they can select any habitat with enough prey. They have also been shown to walk hundreds of kilometers in search of new habitat. “They have no problem traveling through cornfields or prairies for long distances if they have to,” she says. But cornfields and prairies aren’t suitable habitat for the cougars to settle in. She says they require forest cover, rugged terrain and dispersal corridors (typically rivers) that allow easy migration for both the cats and their prey.

Mountain Lions are very cool animals. So like our pets but with a size that means they can kill us, if they want. They are not much risk to us though. Occasionally there are attacks (now that the numbers of cougars are growing) but an extremely small number.

Data from the city of Boulder, Colorado:

There has been an average of 0.2 annual human deaths in all of North America from mountain lions between 1900 and 2007. This number is very low compared to annual deaths from black widow spiders (1.4 between 1950-1989), domestic dogs (16 between 1979-1998) and car crashes (45,000 between 1980-2005).

Related: Mountain Lion Foundation timelineBackyard Wildlife: Mountain LionJaguars Back in the Southwest USA
(2006)
Big Cats in America (2004)Snow Leopard Playing in the Snow in Ohio

Backyard Wildlife: Mountain Lion

Sadly this isn’t my backyard. I would love to see a mountain lion like this. So close. A real wild mountain lion. And I am safe.

Related: Backyard Wildlife: BearsBackyard Wildlife: HawkBackyard Wildlife: Great Spreadwing Damselfly

H-index Rank for Countries: for Science Publications

The SCImago Journal and Country Rank provides journal and country scientific indicators. As stated in previous posts, these types of rankings have limitations but they are also interesting. The table shows the top 6 countries by h-index and then some others I chose to list (the top 6 repeat from my post in 2008 – Country H-index Rank for Science Publications). The h-index provides a numeric indication of scientific production and significance (by looking at the citations given papers by other papers). Read more about the h-index (Hirsh index).

Country h-index h-index (2007) % of World
Population
total Cites
USA

1,139 793     4.5% 87,296,701
United Kingdom

689 465     .9% 21,030,171
Germany

607 408     1.2% 17,576,464
France

554 376     1.0% 12,168,898
Canada

536 370     .5% 10,375,245
Japan

527 372     1.8% 14,341,252
Additional countries of interest
18) China

279 161 19.4% 5,614,294
21) South Korea

258 161     .7% 2,710,566
22) Brazil

239 148  2.8% 1,970,704
25) India

227 146 17.5% 2,590,791
31) Singapore

196 .01% 871,512

Related: Top Countries for Science and Math Education: Finland, Hong Kong and KoreaWorldwide Science and Engineering Doctoral Degree Data Top 15 Manufacturing Countries in 2009Science and Engineering Doctoral Degrees WorldwideRanking Universities Worldwide (2008)Government Debt as Percentage of GDP 1990-2009: USA, Japan, Germany, China…

Top Countries for Science and Math Education: Finland, Hong Kong and Korea

The 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)* report has been released. The report examines the science of 15 year olds from 57 countries in math, science and reading. The main focus of PISA 2009 was reading. The survey also updated performance assessments in mathematics and science.

The Asian countries continue to do very well for several reason including tutoring; they have even turned tutors into rock stars earning millions of dollars. The results show that the focus on student achievement in sciences has had an impact in Asia.

The emphasis is on mastering processes, understanding concepts and functioning in various contexts within each assessment area. the PISA 2012 survey will return to mathematics as the major assessment area, PISA 2015 will focus on science.

Results for the Science portion (rank – country – mean score)(I am not listing all countries):

  • 1 – Finland – 554
  • 2 – Hong Kong – 549
  • 3 – Japan – 539
  • 4 – Korea – 538
  • 5 – New Zealand – 532
  • 6 – Canada – 529
  • 7 – Estonia – 528
  • 8 – Australia – 527
  • 9 – Netherlands – 522
  • 10 – Taiwan – 520
  • 11 – Germany – 520
  • 14 – United Kingdom – 514
  • 21 – USA – 502 (up from 489 and 29th place in 2006)
  • OECD average – 501
  • 25 – France – 498
  • 46 – Mexico – 416
  • 49 – Brazil – 405

Results for the math portion (rank – country – mean score)(I am not listing all countries):
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Poor Results on Evolution and Big Bang Questions Omitted From NSF Report

Evolution, Big Bang Polls Omitted From NSF Report by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

The section, which was part of the unedited chapter on public attitudes toward science and technology, notes that 45% of Americans in 2008 answered true to the statement, “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.” The figure is similar to previous years and much lower than in Japan (78%), Europe (70%), China (69%), and South Korea (64%). The same gap exists for the response to a second statement, “The universe began with a big explosion,” with which only 33% of Americans agreed.

The USA continues to lag far behind the rest of the world in this basic science understanding. Similar to how we lag in other science and mathematical education. Nearly Half of Adults in the USA Don’t Know How Long it Takes the Earth to Circle the Sun.

Jon Miller, a science literacy researcher at Michigan State University in East Lansing who authored the survey 3 decades ago and conducted it for NSF until 2001. “Evolution and the big bang are not a matter of opinion. If a person says that the earth really is at the center of the universe, even if scientists think it is not, how in the world would you call that person scientifically literate? Part of being literate is to both understand and accept scientific constructs.”

I completely agree. People have the right to their opinions. But those opinions which are related to scientific knowledge (whether it is about evolution, the origin of the universe, cancer, the speed of light, polio vaccinations, multi-factorial designed experiments, magnetic fields, chemical catalysts, the effectiveness of antibiotics against viral infections, electricity, optics, bioaccumulation, etc.) are part of their scientific literacy. You can certainly believe antibiotics are affective against viral infections but that is an indication you are scientifically illiterate on that topic.

2006 NSF chapter that included the results
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President Obama Speaks on Getting Students Excited About Science and Engineering

The President announces the “Educate to Innovate” initiative, a campaign to get students excited about pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Quotes from President Obama from his speech – (see webcast above):

“As President, I believe that robotics can inspire young people to pursue science and engineering.”

“Now the hard truth is that for decades we’ve been losing ground. One assessment shows American 15-year-olds now rank 21st in science and 25th in math when compared to their peers around the world.”

“And today, I’m announcing that we’re going to have an annual science fair at the White House with the winners of national competitions in science and technology. If you win the NCAA championship, you come to the White House. Well, if you’re a young person and you’ve produced the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement, too. Scientists and engineers ought to stand side by side with athletes and entertainers as role models, and here at the White House we’re going to lead by example. We’re going to show young people how cool science can be.”

“improving education in math and science is about producing engineers and researchers and scientists and innovators who are going to help transform our economy and our lives for the better.”

Related: 2008 Intel Science Talent SearchReport on K-12 Science Education in USAFun k-12 Science and Engineering LearningScience Education in the 21st CenturyHigh School Inventor Teams @ MITEngineering Education Program for k-1276 Nobel Laureates in Science Endorse ObamaLego Learning

Re-engineering the Food System for Better Health

Good food nation

According to the Centers for Disease Control, between 1980 and 2006 the percentage of obese teenagers in the United States grew from 5 to 18, while the percentage of pre-teens suffering from obesity increased from 7 to 17.

Obesity is widespread due to our national-scale system of food production and distribution, which surrounds children – especially lower-income children – with high-calorie products…
90 percent of American food is processed – according to the United States Department of Agriculture – meaning it has been mixed with ingredients, often acting as preservatives, that can make food fattening.

Now, in another report finished this October after meetings with food-industry leaders, the MIT and Columbia researchers propose a solution: America should increase its regional food consumption.

Only 1 to 2 percent of all food consumed in the United States today is locally produced. But the MIT and Columbia team, which includes urban planners and architects, believes widespread adoption of some modest projects could change that, by increasing regional food production and distribution.

To help production, the group advocates widespread adoption of small-scale innovations such as “lawn to farm” conversions in urban and suburban areas, and the “10 x 10 project,” an effort to develop vegetable plots in schools and community centers. Lawns require more equipment, labor and fuel than industrial farming nationwide, yet produce no goods. But many vegetables, including lettuce, cucumbers and peppers, can be grown efficiently in small plots.

As Albright sees it, the effort to produce healthier foods “fits right in with the health-care reform effort right now because chronic diseases are so costly for the nation.” America currently spends $14 billion annually treating childhood obesity, and $147 billion treating all forms of obesity.

Good stuff. We need to improve health in the USA. The current system is unhealthy and needs to be improved. The public good from improving the health of society is huge (both in terms of individual happiness and economic benefits).

Related: Rethinking the Food Production SystemStudy Finds Obesity as Teen as Deadly as SmokingEat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.Active Amish Avoid ObesityObesity Epidemic ExplainedAnother Strike Against Cola

Energy Secretary Steve Chu Speaks On Funding Science Research

Energy Secretary Steve Chu (and Nobel Laureate) speaks with Google CEO Eric Schmidt about science research. One of the things Steve Chu is doing is funding high risk experiments that have great potential. This is something that is often said should be done but then people resort to safe investments in research. Taking these risks is a very good idea.

This is another example the remarkable way Google operates. The CEO actually understands science and the public good. Google also provides a huge amount of great material online in the form of webcasts of those speaking at Google. Google behaves like a company run by engineers. Other companies have engineers in positions of power but behave like companies run by any MBAs (whether they are lawyers, accountants, marketers or engineers).

Related: President’s Council of Advisors on Science and TechnologyScientists and Engineers in CongressEric Schmidt on Google, Education and EconomicsLarry Page on How to Change the WorldDiplomacy and Science ResearchGoogle Investing Huge Sums in Renewable Energy and is Hiring

2008 National Medals of Science and National Medals of Technology and Innovation

Presidential Medal of Science - USA
The winners of the 2008 National Medals of Science, and National Medals of Technology and Innovation, have been announced. The recipients will receive the awards a White House ceremony in October.

“These scientists, engineers and inventors are national icons, embodying the very best of American ingenuity and inspiring a new generation of thinkers and innovators,” President Obama said. “Their extraordinary achievements strengthen our nation every day – not just intellectually and technologically but also economically, by helping create new industries and opportunities that others before them could never have imagined.”

National Medal of Science
Dr. Berni Alder, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, CA
Dr. Francis Collins, National Institutes of Health, MD
Dr. Joanna Fowler, Brookhaven National Laboratory, NY
Dr. Elaine Fuchs, The Rockefeller University, NY
Dr. James Gunn, Princeton University, NJ
Dr. Rudolf Kalman, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich
Dr. Michael Posner, University of Oregon, OR
Dr. JoAnne Stubbe, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MA
Dr. J. Craig Venter, J. Craig Venter Institute, MD & CA

National Medal of Technology and Innovation
Dr. Forrest M. Bird, Percussionaire Corp., ID
Dr. Esther Sans Takeuchi, University at Buffalo, SUNY, NY
Team: Dr. John E. Warnock and Dr. Charles M. Geschke (Adobe Systems Inc., CA)
Company: IBM Corporation, NY

Related: 2007 National Medals of Science and TechnologyNational Science and Technology Medals (for 2005 and 2006)2004 Medal of Science Winners (including Norman E. Borlaug)

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