Evolution at the NSB redux

Survey questions about the American public's beliefs about evolution and the Big Bang will be restored to the 2012 edition of Science and Engineering Indicators — but concerns linger about their exact wording in the future. As NCSE reported in 2010, although survey results about evolution and the Big Bang have regularly appeared in the National Science Board's Science and Engineering Indicators, its biennial compilation of global data about science, engineering, and technology, since 1985, they were absent from the 2010 edition. Controversy ensued, with Jon Miller, a science literacy researcher at the University of Michigan, charging that the removal of the section was a clumsy attempt to downplay a national embarrassment.

Now, according to a report in Science (July 22, 2011; subscription required), "The board now says that deleting that text was a mistake and that the 2012 edition of Indicators, which comes out in January next year, will contain an analysis of the survey results relating to those questions." José-Marie Griffiths, the new chair of the committee responsible for Indicators, told Science, "In retrospect, we shouldn't have omitted that text from the 2010 Indicators." But the 2012 Indicators will compare "knowledge indices measured with and without the evolution and big bang questions," and the survey for the 2014 Indicators will test versions of the questions prefaced with "According to evolutionary theory" and "According to astronomers."

Miller objected to the revisions, telling Science, "The idea that a scale should be abandoned because Americans are not scoring high enough flies in the face of the most basic principles of scientific measurement. ... We don't make statements like, 'According to some economists, we had a recession' or 'According to the weatherman, we had a tsunami.'" NCSE's Joshua Rosenau added, "Whatever the cultural context or reasons for it, rejection of evolution has profound consequences for a person's ability to fully integrate new and existing science into their own lives, to participate in their own medical care and in the 21st century economy ... If NSF's surveys downplay that fundamental concept, they will be measuring science literacy in name only."