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Is knowledge of science associated with higher skepticism
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Trace: Tennessee Research and Creative
Exchange
University of Tennessee Honors Thesis Projects
University of Tennessee Honors Program
4-2003
Is knowledge of science associated with higher
skepticism of pseudoscientific claims?
Robert Matthew Johnson
University of Tennessee - Knoxville
Follow this and additional works at: http://trace.tennessee.edu/utk_chanhonoproj
Recommended Citation
Johnson, Robert Matthew, "Is knowledge of science associated with higher skepticism of pseudoscientific claims?" (2003). University of
Tennessee Honors Thesis Projects.
http://trace.tennessee.edu/utk_chanhonoproj/659
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Appendi"'{ E -
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PROJECT TITLE: J:s k"owf.,J,e
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I have reviewed this completed senior honors thesis with this srudent J.I1d certify that it is a project
commensurate wit onors level undergraduate research in this field.
Signed: ----~---~d_--------. Faculty Mentor
Date:
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General ,Assessment - please provide a short paragraph that highlights the most significant
teaturcs of the project.
Comments (Optional):
29
Is knowledge of science associated with
higher skepticism of pseudoscientific claims?
By Matthew Johnson & Massimo Pigliucci
Departments of Botany, of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, and of Philosophy,
University of Tennessee, Knoxville 37996-1100
Phone: 865-974-6221; fax 2258; email [email protected], [email protected]
Introduction
We live in a world that is increasingly being shaped by and bathed in science.
The great majority of scientific progress has occurred in the past century, and most of it
has been concentrated in the past 25 years. Human knowledge now spans from the
astronomical scale to the quantum one. Yet, several authors have noted that modern
societies are also characterized by a high degree of belief in a variety of
pseudoscientific claims that have been thoroughly debunked or otherwise discarded by
scientists (Anonymous 2001; Ede 2000).
The argument has been put forth that belief in pseudoscientific claims is the
result of insufficient science education (references in Goode 2002; Walker et al. 2002).
However, several polls have shown that at least for some areas of pseudoscience,
education does not seem to correlate with skepticism (Goode 2002). For example, in
the United States, the education category with the highest belief in extraterrestrial visits
aboard UFOs is that of people with a college education (51%), although post-graduate
education did lead to more skepticism (but still with 39% believers). Indeed, a study by
Walker et al. (2002) conducted at three undergraduate universities in the U.S. has
shown no correlation at all between knowledge of science and belief in an array of
pseudoscientific claims.
A partial explanation for this state of affairs may be that science factual
knowledge has little bearing on people's understanding of the evidence in favor or
against pseudoscientific claims (Walker et al. 2002). It is well known that science
education, especially (but not exclusively), at the pre-college level is the teaching of
facts at the detriment of explicit treatment of methodological and conceptual issues
surrounding the practice of science (Walker et al. 2002). It is not clear why educators
would expect that massive factual knowledge of science should translate into
conceptual understanding of the nature of science and into improved critical thinking
skills, allegedly the true targets of science education.
This study addresses the issue of the relationships among science factual
knowledge, conceptual understanding of science, and belief in pseudoscience with a
3D-question survey consisting of three types of questions given to students enrolled in a
science major, compared to the responses obtained by groups of non-science majors.
The first class of questions was made of ten five-choice multiple choice questions
intended to assess the students' general knowledge of science (e.g., about the periodic
table or the nature of photons). The second set was constituted of ten true/false
question that tests a respondent's understanding of important scientific concepts, such
as the difference between theories and laws. The third class of questions quantified the
respondents' degree of belief (on a scale of one to five, with five as highest belief) in
paranormal phenomena, such as telepathy, astrology, or the existence of the Loch Ness
monster.
By surveying science and non-science majors, we wished to test the following
hypotheses of association among our measures of scientific knowledge, understanding,
and paranormal belief:
Science majors have more factual knowledge of science than non-science majors
(since that is what they are primarily taught).
Science majors have more understanding of conceptual issues in science
(possibly because they are able to somehow derive it from factual knowledge to
which they more mostly exposed).
Science majors express lower degrees of pseudoscientific belief than non-science
majors (presumably because their knowledge of science makes them more
skeptical of such claims).
There are no differences between genders for belief in pseudoscience, knowledge
of science facts, or understanding of conceptual issues in science (even though
recent surveys have found a higher degree of pseudoscientific belief in woman
than men, though the trend is reversed for specific pseudoscientific claims, such
as UFOs and unusual life forms, such as the Loch Ness monster: Anonymous
2001).
We also tested the following expectations concerning the pair wise relationships
between the different types of questions we administered:
There is either a positive or no correlation between knowledge of science facts
and understanding of science concepts (because factual knowledge somehow
translates into conceptual understanding, or because the two are in fact
uncorrelated; the only option that is not expected under any educational theory is
that of a negative correlation between the two).
There is either a negative or no correlation between knowledge of science facts
and degree of pseudoscientific belief (because factual knowledge of science does
in fact indirectly foster critical thinking, or the two {science knowledge and critical
thinking skills} are unrelated to each other; one would not expect the third
outcome, that of a positive relationship between conceptual understanding of
science and pseudoscientific belief).
There is either a negative or no relationship between understanding of science
concepts and pseudoscientific belief (because conceptual understanding of
science increases critical thinking, which leads to reduced belief in
pseudoscience; alternatively, conceptual understanding of science does not
translate into critical thinking skills, and hence has no positive relationship
between science concepts and pseudoscience beliefs, is not expected under any
scenario).
Materials and Methods
We assembled our 30-question survey (Appendix A) by examining two published
surveys. The first one (Walker, et al. 2002) compared knowledge of scientific facts to
pseudoscientific beliefs. Nine of the ten science fact multiple-choice questions used by
those authors were kept, and we wrote one question of our own to replace the one
removed. The one question was removed because it required specific knowledge of
genetics, immunology, and reproduction, which we felt went beyond what could
reasonably be expected at the level of introductory classes. The question we added
tests a student's knowledge of the properties of a photon. For the pseudoscientific
questions, we picked ten, out of the original 14, to place in the survey. We reduced the
number of questions to eliminate overlapping topics (e.g. in the original questionnaire
there were two questions about ghosts) and to focus on pseudoscientific beliefs that
appear to be common. We also reduced the range of the belief scale from the original 17 to 1-5, with five indicating the highest level of belief.
For the scientific concepts portion of our survey, we selected ten true/false
questions from Richard Carrier's Test of Scientific Literacy
(http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/SciLit.htmI2001).Again.asin the
previous case, we eliminated questions due to overlapping topics. We also eliminated
questions that seemed highly technical or could be more easily misinterpreted by the
students.
We randomized the order in which the 30 questions were presented in our
survey, so that students would be less likely to try to second-guess the answers
compared to a scenario in which it was more obvious that a series of pseudoscientific
questions were presented after a series of fact- or concept-based questions.
We presented our survey to four classes, two second-year biology and two
second-year philosophy classes. Our original experimental design assumed that
philosophy majors would attend the philosophy classes, but due to class scheduling
conflicts at the time of the survey, the only philosophy classes we had access to were in
fact ethics classes attended by business majors. Overall, there were 170 respondents.
Students were asked during class to volunteer to take the survey. The survey
administrator had no relationship with the class. Instructors were asked not to offer extra
credit to students taking the survey. Students who responded to the survey were asked
to provide only four pieces of personal information about themselves: age, gender,
school year, and major. After instructions were given to the class, the administrator left
the room for 15 minutes to ensure students did not feel pressured to take the survey.
Students placed the surveys in a box left at the front of the room for the administrator to
pick up after 15 minutes.
After we collected responses from all classes, we entered the results into a
spreadsheet that was then imported into the statistical software Jump (SAS for
Macintosh, v.5.01). We first calculated an average coefficient of scientific fact literacy,
one of scientific concepts literacy, and one of pseudoscientific belief, simply by
averaging the responses of each student to all questions within each of the three sets.
We then ran an analysis of variance on each of the three summary indices with major,
gender, and the major-by-gender interaction as factors. This would provide us with an
overview of the association between major and gender with science literacy (both
factual and conceptual) and pseudoscientific belief. Similar results were also obtained
by running one-way non-parametric Kruskall-Wallis analyses of variance.
In order to obtain a more in-depth view of the same relationships we also ran a
series of contingency analyses relating major and gender to the responses to each
question within each set. We noted both the overall statistical significance of major and
gender effects for each question, and the percentage of correct responses (in the case
of science fact or concept questions) or the degree of pseudoscientific belief relative to
the total.
We then considered the possible relationships among the three sets of
measures, which were the major goal of this study. In order to quantify them, we
calculated both non-parametric correlation coefficients (Spearman's and Kendall's) as
well as parametric Pearson correlation coefficients between the each pair of overall
indices of science factual knowledge, science conceptual understanding, and
pseudoscientific belief. Results were very similar regardless of the specific correlation
coefficient used.
Finally, we wished to quantify and visualize the similarities in students' responses
to all thirty questions, which we accomplished by calculating an index of pairwise
similarity between responses and subjecting the resulting matrix to a clustering
algorithm, which produced a dendrogram (tree-like structure). Results were very similar
when we used different indices of similarity (Gower's general Similarity coefficient,
Jaccard's coefficient, and the simple matching coefficient) suitable for categorical data
such as ours (Sneath and Soka11973, pp. 129-137). Tree topology was also stable to
the use of different clustering algorithms, such as unweighted arithmetic average
(UPGMA), weighted arithmetic average (WPGMA), unweighted centroid (UPGMC),
weighted centroid (WPGMC), and Ward's method (Sneath and Sokal 1973, pp. 214244). All calculations of similarity indices and cluster analyses were conducted using the
"R package" by Casgrain and Legendre, version 4.0, available at
http://www.fas.umontreal.calbiol/casgrain/en/labo/permute. On the resulting
dendrogram, questions that tended to elicit similar responses across all classes of
students were grouped together.
Results
Parametric analyses of variance of the relationship between Major, Gender, and
Major-by-Gender interaction and the overall students' scores in science facts, science
methods, and pseudoscientific belief (Table 1), found only a significant association
between majors and their overall science fact score. The graph to the right of the table
illustrates that science majors scored (predictably) better than non-science majors did
on factual questions regarding a broad range of scientific fields, although the difference
between the two groups was certainly not overwhelming. Similar results were also
obtained using a series of non-parametric one-way ANOVAs (Kruskall-Wallis) on Major
and Gender (details not shown).
The general results reported in Table 1 are consistent with the question-byquestion analyses detailed in Tables 2-4 and based on a series of contingency tests.
For example, note that while there are scattered Significant effects of gender on science
factual knowledge (Table 2), major on conceptual understanding of science (Table 3),
and of gender on pseudoscientific belief (Table 4), the majority of individual significant
effects were found for major on science factual knowledge. Interestingly, questions
concerning factual knowledge of the physics of energy, the nature of photons, the
difference between organic and inorganic matter, the metric system, the litmus test, and
the relationship between earth-sun distance and the seasons all received low scores,
with less than 50% of even the science majors getting them correct (boldface in Table
2).
Perhaps even more discouraging was the fact that no science method question
received even 50% of correct answers, regardless of major or gender. Indeed, the
difference between theory and laws was understood by less than 5% of the respondents
in any category!
Perhaps a little more encouraging was the fact that the modal degree of belief in
pseudoscientific claims was never higher than 3 (out of 5), and it was often lower than
that (most frequently 1, the most skeptical response) (Table 4). Nevertheless, a low
degree of skepticism was found for claims concerning the healing power of magnets,
the presence of aliens in Area 51, and the existence of telepathy or clairvoyance
(boldface in Table 4). On the positive side, students seemed to be particularly skeptical
of the good or bad luck brought by chain letters and broken mirrors.
In order to determine the degree of correlation between the pairwise overall
scores of students in pseudoscience, science facts, and science concepts, we
calculated series of Spearman rank correlation coefficients (Table 5). They indicated
that there was a weak positive correlation between knowledge of science facts and
understanding of science concepts. We also found a weak negative correlation between
pseudoscientific beliefs and science facts but apparently no relationship between
pseudoscience belief and understanding of scientific concepts and methods. None of
these correlation coefficients exceeded 0.27, however, indicating a large amount of
unexplained variation in each indicator. Similar results were obtained using either
Kendall's rank or Pearson parametric correlation coefficients.
Finally, a cluster analysis on the responses to all questions was performed using
several measures of similarity and methods of hierarchical clustering (see Materials and
Methods). The results reported here (Figure 1) were obtained by subjecting a matrix of
Gower's general Similarity coefficients to unweighted arithmetic average (UPGMA)
clustering (though similar results were obtained with the other methods). Three
measures of cophenetic correlation (Sneath and Sokal 1973, pp. 278-280) between the
output of the clustering algorithm and the original similarity matrix were satisfactory,
indicating that the dendrogram reliably reproduced the degree of similarity among
responses to the various questions (the cophenetic coefficients were as follows: Kendall
=+0.77; Pearson =+0.82; Gower =2.98; notice that the first two vary between 0 and 1,
where higher values indicate better fit, while the third one varies between 0 and infinity,
and low values indicate better fit). The results show two major clusters, with several
distinct sub-clusters. Most of the pseudoscience questions clustered together (bottom of
diagram in Fig. 1), with the exception of those concerning luck brought by chain letters
and broken mirrors (the same two for which students showed a high degree of
skepticism), which clustered with a large number of mostly science fact questions (top
portion of Fig. 1). The second major cluster was made of several sub-clusters, mostly
with a mixture of science factual and conceptual questions, some of which are perhaps
suggestive of interesting associations. For example, one tight cluster grouped together
answers related to the ideas that scientific conclusions are tentative, that science is
based on assumptions and postulates, and that theoretical entities are often featured in
scientific conclusions. Other clusters, however, do not seem to hint at any simple
relationship within or between the science facts and methods questions.
Discussion
Belief in all sorts of paranormal claims is very high in the United States, with
recent surveys (Anonymous 2001) indicating, for example, that 36% of Americans think
astrology is "very" or "sort of" SCientific, 17% report having contacted a fortune teller,
and a whopping 1/3 to half of Americans believing in UFOs. The causes of such
widespread belief in irrational or unsubstantiated claims are difficult to pinpoint, as are
potential trends (increasing or decreasing), due to the complexity of cultural forces
involved and the lack of standardization across surveys.
Walker et al. (2002) have put forth the suggestion that science education is no
guarantee of skepticism, and our general results seem to support the conclusions based
on their own study. Walker et al. found no significant correlation between scores on a
test of science literacy and degree of belief in an array of pseudoscientific claims when
they surveyed three samples of undergraduate students at small universities in the
United States.
Interestingly, work by Vitulli et al. (1999) found that belief in the paranormal is
stronger in young males attending college as well as in elderly women, although they
did find a possible positive effect of education: elderly people attending continuing
education courses scores significantly lower in their belief in the paranormal (though, of
course, this may have been due to a self-selecting effect).
The scope of our study was such that we could test some specific hypotheses
concerning the expected association between indicators of science knowledge (both
factual and conceptual) and of pseudoscientific belief. Of course, we were in no position
to directly address the causal links between education and belief, although below we
suggest some follow-up studies that might get closer to that goal. First, we hypothesized
that science majors should display more knowledge of science facts than non-science
majors, a minimalistic prediction if in fact science education has to have any effect
whatsoever. Indeed, our results did confirm this expectation, although the difference
between the scores of the two groups was not nearly as impressive as one might have
hoped.
We also made the somewhat more risky prediction that science majors would
display more conceptual understanding of science, allegedly the true goal of science
education, than their non-science counterparts would. No such difference was found,
which leads to at least questioning one of the most cherished assumptions of science
educators: if we wish our students to understand how science works, confronting them
with a lot of factual knowledge does not seem to help. Moreover, the general degree of
conceptual understanding of science on the part of our students was abysmally low,
especially in crucial areas such as the distinction between laws of nature (Le.,
observations of regular patterns with no exceptions) and well-substantiated scientific
theories (Le., human interpretations of how the world works, which withstood repeated
empirical tests).
The third prediction was even bolder: we speculated that science majors would
display lower degrees of pseudoscientific belief, at least in part as a result of their
science training (though, of course, effects due to self-selection are also possible).
Again, we were disappointed: while students in our samples did show generally low
degrees of pseudoscientific belief (with the notable exceptions of the healing powers of
magnets, the existence of aliens being held at the government facility known as "Area
51," and the existence of telepathy or clairvoyance), no difference was found between
the majors.
We also investigated the possibility of existence of differences in our indicators
between genders, given the repeated observation of such differences in previous
surveys. For example, belief in all (though not all) paranormal phenomena was found to
be higher in women than men by a survey conducted by the National Science
Foundation (Anonymous 2001), and a survey by Irwin (1985) found that belief in the
paranormal is stronger in women than men. Our overall results did not show any such
difference when an average indicator of pseudoscientific belief was considered, nor
were gender differences significant for overall science factual or conceptual knowledge.
However, more detailed analyses did reveal a hint of some differences between
genders. For example, female students knew slightly better than their male counterparts
about the dominant source of energy on earth and about the nature of infectious
disease, though it is difficult to speculate on the causes of this difference, and we are
inclined to attribute them to statistical fluctuations. Significantly, we found no differences
between genders even upon a more in-depth analysis in the area of conceptual
understanding of science, while men were less likely to believe in the existence of the
Loch Ness monster and more likely to think that animals can sense ghosts. Again,
however, it is possible that the latter two findings were due to statistical fluctuations and
carry no general meaning.
One of the major goals of our research was to investigate the possible
relationships between our three indices of knowledge of science fact and
pseudoscientific belief. Under the most optimistic scenario, we had predicted a positive
association between knowledge of science facts and understanding of science concepts
(if the standard educational assumption holds), and a negative association between
either measure of science literacy and pseudoscientific belief (under the assumption
that more knowledge of science makes for better critical thinking, and therefore more
skepticism about pseudoscience).
The first prediction turned out to be correct, although the strength of the
association between knowledge of science facts and understanding of concepts was
very weak. This is consistent with the idea that there is some detectable seepage from
learning many facts about science to a higher-level understanding of how science
works. However, the weakness of the relationship strongly suggests that there must be
better ways of achieving this, consistently with recent literature on science teaching and
critical thinking (Wandersee 1990; Sundberg et al. 1994; Belzer et al. 2003).
On the other hand, neither knowledge of science facts nor understanding of
scientific concepts seemed to be associated with the degree of belief in pseudoscience
(though both correlation coefficients were in the right direction, that is, negative). This,
of course, is subject to several interpretations, and does not necessarily mean that a
better understanding of science does not foster critical thinking. However, it does mean
that whatever association there may be between knowledge of science and skepticism
about pseudoscience, it is not very strong or particularly evident. Indeed, even at the
much more sophisticated level of graduate studies, Lehman et al. (1988) found that
training in the hard sciences (chemistry) did not result in a high level of transferability of
critical thinking skills to everyday problems. On the other hand, graduate students in the
social sciences (psychology), who are continuously exposed to complex problems
characterized by probabilistic answers, seem to be much better equipped to apply their
critical thinking skills to other domains than academic research. This is particularly
interesting in this context because it argues that another assumption commonly made
by science educators, that science training makes for better critical thinkers, may not be
true even at the level of graduate studies, let alone undergraduate.
Several caveats and possible future directions in regards to this study need to be
briefly discussed. One obvious limitation of our research is that it did not include a
longitudinal component to help discriminate between the actual effect of teaching
science and the possibility of self-selection of more critically thinking students into
scientific disciplines. However, since we did not find significant differences in this
respect between science and non-science majors, our results can hardly be attribute to
self-selection processes. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to compare, for example,
freshman and seniors in science vs. non-science majors, with the idea that any
difference between groups that increases with time would be likely due to training rather
than self-selection. It is of course possible that both effects contribute, which would
translate into a significant year-by-major interaction in an analysis of variance.
Secondly, it would be interesting to examine the possible differences between
actual philosophy students and science majors, as opposed to business students taking
ethics classes in philosophy, as it happened in our case. The reason for this is that
philosophers are among the few majors who actually get formal training in critical
thinking, both through courses explicitly designed for that purpose, as well as through
rigorous training in logical and conceptual analyses of any course material to which they
are exposed.
Thirdly, it would be interesting to expand the study to include graduate students,
comparing them between disciplines (a la Lehman et aI1988), as well as with beginning
and advanced undergraduates. One would expect that graduate students might be
more skeptical than undergraduates of pseudoscientific claims regardless of their
discipline because of more maturity and education. However, we also predict
differences in critical thinking abilities between philosophy and science graduate
students (to the advantage of the former) and among different kinds of graduate
students (to the advantage of people working on complex problems characterized by
probabilistic approaches, such as psychology and organismal biology).
Overall, much more needs to be understood about the relationship among factual
knowledge of science, its conceptual understanding, critical thinking, and belief in
pseudoscience (which, incidentally, does not itself represent a homogeneous category,
with surveys showing distinctions between different kinds of pseudoscientific belief:
Anonymous 2001; Goode 2002). Certainly, we cannot simply assume that all we need
to do in order to improve critical thinking and reasonable skepticism is to teach more
science facts.
References
Anonymous. 2001. Science indicators 2000: belief in the paranormal or pseudoscience.
Pp. 12-15. Skeptical Inquirer.
Belzer, S., M. Miller, and S. Shoemake. 2003. Concepts in biology: a supplemental
study skills course designed to improve introductory students' skills for learning
biology. American Biology Teacher 65(1 ):30-39.
Ede, A. 2000. Has science education become an enemy of scientific rationality? Pp. 4851. Skeptical Inquirer.
Goode, E. 2002. Education, scientific knowledge, and belief in the paranormal. Pp. 2427. Skeptical Inquirer.
Irwin, H. J. 1985. A study of measurement and correlates of paranormal belief. Journal
of the American Society for Psychical Research 79:301-326.
Lehman, D. R., R. O. Lempter, and R. E. Nisbett. 1988. The effects of graduate training
on reasoning: formal discipline and thinking about everyday-life events. American
Psychologist 43:431-442.
Sneath, P. H. A., and R. R. Sokal. 1973. Numerical taxonomy. W.H. Freeman & Co.,
San Francisco.
Sundberg, M. D., M. L. Dini, and E. Li. 1994. Decreasing course content improves
student comprehension of science and attitudes towards science in freshman
biology. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 31 :679-693.
Vitulli, W. F., S. M. Tipton, and J. L. Rowe. 1999. Beliefs in the paranormal: age and sex
differences among elderly persons and undergraduate students. Psychological
Reports 85:847-855.
Walker, W. R., and S. J. Hoekstra. 2002. Science education is no guarantee of
skepticism. Pp. 24-27. Skeptic.
Wandersee, J. H. 1990. Concept mapping and the cartography of cognition. Journal of
Research in Science Teaching 27:923-936.
Table 1. Analyses of variance of the relationship between Major, Gender and Major-by-Gender
interaction and the overall students' scores in science facts, science methods and pseudoscience belief.
RA2 indicates the amount of variance explained by the model, numbers in parenthesis on the top row
indicate degrees of freedom of each effect. In the main body of the table, means squares values are
reported, together with their associated level of statistical significance (in parentheses). The graph
illustrates the mean differences between groups in the only case in which significant differences were
detected. Notice that similar results were obtained by running non-parametric one-way ANOVAs
(Kruskal-Wallis) on Major and Gender.
Variable
RI\2
Major
(1)
Gender
(1)
Major x
Gender
(1)
error
(142)
1.
Overall science fact
score
24.7%
0.8419
(0.0001)
0.0019
(0.7570)
0.0326
(0.2026)
0.0199
t5
CD
«10)
..... "0
CD CD
o
~
u-
Overall science
methods score
Overall
pseudoscience
belief
1.4%
0.0315
(0.3090)
0.0146
(0.4878)
0.0001
(0.9474)
0.0302
a5 c~
.-
u.::£
en
..,.
o.
1.0%
0.1840
(0.4713)
0.4450
(0.2631 )
0.0011
(0.9552)
0.3526
o
nonscience
majors
science
majors
Table 2. Contingency analyses of the responses to questions on science facts, by Major (non-science
vs. science) and Gender. Questions highlighted in boldface were characterized by a particularly poor
response (Le., no category reached 50% of correct answers). Percentages refer to total correct answers
(to provide determine how many people responded correctly or incorrectly overall), which means that
they do not add up to 100% within factors. Boldfaced p-values highlight particularly striking differences
between Majors or Genders (Le., p<0.01).
Gender
Major
Question
nonscience
science
likelihood
ratio
p-value
female
male
likelihood
ratio
p-value
Dominant source of energy
on earth
34.8%
52.8%
11.919
0.0006
45.5%
41.3%
7.105
o.oon
Physics of energy
34.6%
49.4%
5.177
0.0229
41.9%
42.5%
0.475
0.4906
Nature of photons
14.8%
14.2%
0.961
0.3270
13.7%
14.9%
0.002
0.9611
Nature of infectious disease
27.2%
51.9%
26.154
0.0001
42.9%
35.7%
8.363
0.0038
Organic vs. inorganic
22.1%
43.6%
15.775
0.0001
34.9%
31.4%
2.310
0.1286
Periodic table
35.2%
54.3%
21.057
0.0001
43.5%
45.8%
0.011
0.9149
Metric system
29.0%
38.9%
0.753
0.3856
32.1%
36.9%
0.765
0.3818
Litmus test
20.6%
46.3%
24.411
0.0001
34.3%
31.9%
0.765
0.3816
Genetic disorders
40.5%
54.0%
4.319
0.0377
47.0%
47.0%
1.550
0.2131
Earth-Sun distance and
seasons
8.6%
9.3%
0.147
0.7014
6.6%
12.5%
3.348
0.0673
Table 3. Contingency analyses of the responses to questions on science concepts, by Major
(non-science vs. science) and Gender. Questions highlighted in boldface were characterized by a
particularly poor response (Le., no category reached 50% of correct answers). Percentages refer to total
correct answers (to provide determine how many people responded correctly or incorrectly overall), which
means that they do not add up to 100% within factors. Boldfaced p-values highlight particularly striking
differences between Majors or Genders (Le., p<0.01). Notice that all questions received very low overall
percentages of correct answers, and that there were few significant differences between levels of the
factors.
Gender
Major
Question
nonscience
science
likelihood
ratio
p-value
female
male
likelihood
ratio
p-value
Science produces tentative
conclusions
27.6%
39.9%
2.050
0.1522
32.5%
33.1%
0.137
0.7111
Is there only one scientific method?
26.1%
36.0%
0.789
0.3744
34.7%
28.1%
4.289
0.0384
Theories are explanations, not facts
36.4%
44.4%
0.001
0.9901
36.9%
43.5%
2.298
0.1295
Is science just about facts or about
interpretations?
35.0%
47.9%
2.077
0.1495
42.0%
40.8%
1.587
0.2077
Does science require to conduct
experiments?
19.8%
27.2%
0.506
0.4769
21.4%
25.6%
0.627
0.4285
Can experiments prove theories?
11.8%
26.1%
8.131
0.0044
19.8%
18.0%
0.435
0.5094
Science includes beliefs,
assumptions & non-observables
25.9%
27.8%
0.785
0.3755
26.2%
27.4%
0.035
0.8509
Are laws exceedingly well confirmed
theories?
3.1%
5.0%
0.273
0.6013
4.8%
3.0%
1.055
0.3044
A theory is a hypothesis that has
been amply confirmed
38.9%
49.4%
0.074
0.7852
43.5%
44.6%
0.132
0.7162
Science uses theoretical entities
that have never been observed
30.3%
34.6%
0.311
0.5769
31.7%
33.5%
0.029
0.8655
-
----
Table 4. Contingency analyses of the responses to questions on pseudoscientific beliefs, by Major
(non-science vs. science) and Gender. Questions highlighted in boldface were characterized by a
particularly low skeptical response (Le., not even 50% of students in any category expressed complete
disbelief). Entries under the levels of each factor indicate the modal response (from 1 to 5, with 5 as the
highest degree of belief), and the percentage of students (within each level of each factor) answering in
that fashion (in parentheses). Boldfaced p-values highlight particularly strikingly (Le., p<0.01) differences
between Majors or Genders. Notice that there were few significant differences between levels of the
factors.
Gender
Major
nonscience
science
Magnets can heal
3
(39.7%)
3
(42.2%)
3.587
There are aliens in area 51
2-3
(30.1%)
3
(30.0%)
Telepathy or clairvoyance
are real
2
(38.4%)
Astrology predicts personality & future
Question
likelihood
ratio
p-value
female
male
likelihood
ratio
p-value
I
0.4648
3
(42.7%)
3
(39.1%)
2.950
0.5661
0.999
0.9100
3
(29.3%)
2
(29.9%)
0.636
0.9589
2
(32.2%)
4.237
0.3748
2
(35.4%)
1
(40.2%)
6.862
0.1434
1
(52.1%)
1
(48.9%)
2.311
0.6787
1
(40.2%)
1
(60.9%)
10.441
0.0336
Bigfoot exists
1
(58.9%)
1
(50.0%)
9.385
0.0522
1
(56.1%)
1
(50.6%)
4.081
0.3952
The Loch Ness monster exists
1
(52.1%)
1
(41.1%)
7.339
0.1190
1
(47.6%)
1
(44.8%)
18.508
0.0010
Sending chain letters brings good luck
1
(80.8%)
1
(87.8%)
8.264
0.0409
1
(81.7%)
1
(88.5%)
3.785
0.2856
1
(48%)
1
(40.%)
1.256
0.8688
1
(31.7%)
1
(53.5%)
15.191
0.0043
Voodoo kils
1
(58.3%)
1
(55.6%)
0.972
0.9141
1
(51.2%)
1
(61.6%)
3.796
0.4343
Broken mirrors bring bad luck
1
(72.6%)
1
(82.2%)
3.641
0.3029
1
(72.0%)
1
(85.1%)
7.977
0.0465
Animals can sense ghosts
-
- - -
least
skeptica
males
females
Table 5. Pairwise Spearman's rank correlation coefficients
relating overall scores of students in pseudoscience, science
facts and science concepts categories. Significance levels of
the statistical tests are in parentheses. Similar results were
obtained using either Kendall's rank or Pearson parametric
correlation coefficients.
Pseudoscience
Science facts
-0.18
(0.0228)
Science
concepts
-0.06
(0.4383)
Science facts
+0.27
(0.0007)
Level
Earth's energy
Energy physics
<
I
<
Peri odi c tabl e
<
Genetic disorders
<
Hypothesis vs. theory
<
Theories as explanations
<
Infectious diseases
<
Not just facts
<
chai n 1etters
<
Broken mirrors
<
organic vs. inorganic
<
Metri c system
<
Litmus test
<
One scientific method
<
Tentative conclusions
<
Theoretical entities
<
0.07649
0.08855
0.05768
0.06474
0.04321
<-
1<
1<-
- I
<~ 1<-
0.11243
0.07445
0.08224
1<1<
0.12402
0.05542
1<1<
I
1<-
<-------------------
Laws vs. theories
<
Earth-sun
<---------
Experiments prove theories <
Experiments required
<
Magnets can heal
<
Aliens in Area 51
<
Telepathy/clairvoyance
<
Astrology
<
voodoo
<
Bigfoot
<
Loch Ness
<
Animals sense ghosts
<
I
<
0.14981
<
0.21221
0.12086
0.13707
1<-
Nature of photons
seasons
0.14542
1<-
science makes assumptions <
&
0.12884
0.12192
<
1
<
<--------------------------------
0.39355
0.11552
0.12720
0.08163
1<1<--
1<--
0.15780
1< ____
<
<--------------1<-<---1<<---1<---------------1<
0.30824
0.23521
0.26717
0.20000
0.21454
0.09517
0.21285
Figure 1. Cluster analysis of
the similarities in students'
responses to the thirty
questions on science facts,
science concepts and
pseudoscience. Numbers on
the right quantify similarities
between objects within each
cluster. The dendrogram is
based on unweighted
arithmetic average (UPGMA)
of a matrix of similarities
calculated using Gower's
general similarity coefficient.
Measures of cophenetic
relationships between the
derived and original matrix
(Kendall's tau = 0.77,
Pearson's r =0.82, and
Gower's distance =2.98),
indicated a good fit between
the dendrogram and the
similarity matrix. The same
topology was obtained by
subjecting the same
coefficients to other clustering
methods, and the major
features of the topology were
retained when using different
coefficients of similarity, such
as Jaccard's and the simple
matching coefficient. These
other methods, however,
yielded a lower fit between
tree topology and similarity
matrix when measured by the
above-mentioned cophenetic
coefficients, and did not
resolve the differences among
the responses to the questions
on pseudoscientific beliefs.
Appendix A
Survey Responses
Major:
Year:
Age:
Gender:
Survey
Please circle what, in your opinion, is the best answer.
1. Which of the following is the dominant source of all or nearly all of the Earth's energy?
(A) Plants, (8) Animals, (C) Coal, (0) Oil, (E) The Sun
the following is true?
Energy may be converted from one form to another
Energy may not be converted from one form to another
The energy that a moving object possesses because of its motion is correctly
known as potential energy
(0) Objects which possess energy because of their position are said to have kinetic
energy
(E) Most scientists readily agree that energy from nuclear fission will be the chief source
of energy by the year 2005
2. Which of
(A)
(8)
(C)
3. The body can be healed by placing magnets onto the skin near injured areas.
1=1 do not believe in this at all
2=1 doubt that this is real
3=1 am unsure if this is real or not
4=1 believe this is real
5=1 strongly believe this is real
4. Science only produces tentative conclusions that can change. T / F
5. Science has one uniform way of conducting research called ''the scientific method." T / F
6. A photon
(A)
(8)
(C)
(0)
(E)
is?
A particle
A wave
A unit of energy
A particle and a wave, depending on the circumstances
A theoretical entity used to explain light
7. The government is hiding evidence of alien visitors at places such as Area 51.
1=1 do not believe in this at all
2=1 doubt that this is real
3=1 am unsure if this is real or not
4=1 believe this is real
5=1 strongly believe this is real
8. Scientific theories are explanations and not facts. T / F
9. A person can use their mind to see the future or read other people's thoughts.
1=1 do not believe in this at all
2=1 doubt that this is real
3=1 am unsure if this is real or not
4=1 believe this is real
5=1 strongly believe this is real
10. A person's astrological sign can predict a person's personality and their future.
1=1 do not believe in this at all
2=1 doubt that this is real
3=1 am unsure if this is real or not
4=1 believe this is real
5=1 strongly believe this is real
11. Heavy infections of Trichinella in people may cause a disease called trichinosis; such a
situation may best be described as which of the following?
(A) Parasitism
(B) Mutualism
(C) Commercialism
(D) Benevolent
(E) Benign
12. Which of the following is the main difference between an organic and an inorganic
compound?
(A) The former is a living compound, while the latter is a nonliving compound
(B) There are many more of the latter than of the former
(C) The latter can be synthesized only by living organisms
(D) The latter can be synthesized only by nonliving organisms
(E) The former are those that contain carbon.
13. On the periodic table the symbol Pb represents which of the following?
(A) Iron, (B) Phosphorus, (C) Lead, (D) Plutonium, (E) Potassium.
14. An ape-like mammal, sometimes called Bigfoot, roams the forests of America.
1=1 do not believe in this at all
2=1 doubt that this is real
3=1 am unsure if this is real or not
4=1 believe this is real
5=1 strongly believe this is real
15. Science is just about the facts, not human interpretations of them. T I F
16. To be scientific one must conduct experiments. T I F
17. A dinosaur, sometimes called the Loch Ness Monster, lives in a Scottish Lake.
1=1 do not believe in this at all
2=1 doubt that this is real
3=1 am unsure if this is real or not
4=1 believe this is real
5=1 strongly believe this is real
18. Sending chain letters can bring you good luck.
1=1 do not believe in this at all
2=1 doubt that this is real
3=1 am unsure if this is real or not
4=1 believe this is real
5=1 strongly believe this is real
19. An experiment can prove a theory true. T I F
20. Which of the metric terms is closest to the measurement of a new piece of chalk?
(A) Meter, (B) Liter, (C) Kilogram, (D) Decimeter, (E) Kilometer.
21. A litmus test conducted on HCI would have which of the following results?
(A) There is no effect on the color of the litmus paper
(8) The litmus paper disintegrates
(C) The litmus paper turns blue
(0) The litmus paper turns red
(E) The carbonation causes oxygen
22. Science is partly based on beliefs, assumptions, and the nonobservable. T / F
23. Animals, such as cats and dogs, are sensitive to the presence of ghosts.
1=1 do not believe in this at all
2=1 doubt that this is real
3=1 am unsure if this is real or not
4=1 believe this is real
5=1 strongly believe this is real
24. Which of the following is a genetic disorder?
(A) Down's Syndrome, (8) Syphilis, (C) Malaria, (D) Leukemia, (E) Emphysema.
25. A scientific law is a theory that has been extensively and thoroughly confirmed. T / F
26. An accepted scientific theory is an hypothesis that has been confirmed by considerable
evidence and has endured all attempts to disprove it. T / F
27. Voodoo curses are real and have been known to kill people.
1=1 do not believe in this at all
2=1 doubt that this is real
3=1 am unsure if this is real or not
4=1 believe this is real
5=1 strongly believe this is real
28. Scientists accept the existence of theoretical entities that have never been directly observed.
T/F
29. A broken mirror can bring you bad luck for many years.
1=1 do not believe in this at all
2=1 doubt that this is real
3=1 am unsure if this is real or not
4=1 believe this is real
5=1 strongly believe this is real
30. When is the Earth closest to the Sun? (Assume seasons in the Northern hemisphere)
(A) During the summer, (8) During the fall, (C) During the winter
(D) During the spring, (E) During the spring and summer.
Answers
I.E
2.A
4. T
5.F
6.E
8. T
11. A
12. E
13.C
15. F
16.F
19.F
20.D
21. D
22. T
24. A
25.F
26.T
28. T
30. C
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