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Moscow City University explains why young people better understand how the world works [PHOTO]

By Karina Faizullina

Does the Sun revolve around the Earth or vice versa?

The Russian Center for Public Opinion Research has published the results of a study on Russian scientific misconceptions, according to which a third of respondents believe that the Sun orbits the Earth, while a fifth of between them believe that dinosaurs lived side by side with cavemen. Middle-aged and older respondents gave the highest number of wrong answers, while young people showed their scientific literacy. Moscow City University explained why so many people around the world do not know simple facts and how this can be improved.

The Earth revolves around the Sun and not the other way round

The Russian Center for Public Opinion Research (VCIOM) presented the results of the survey of residents on scientific facts – one in three believe that the Sun revolves around the Earth. Another 12% of respondents believe that the planet orbits the Sun in a month. Secondary education can provide correct answers to simple questions about the structure of the world, says director of the Robotics Competence Center, lecturer at the Department of Mathematics and Physics of Moscow City University, Sergey Makeev, but astronomy as a school subject has only recently been introduced in Russia:

“Astronomy was no longer a compulsory subject in Russian schools in 1993, and it was not until 2017 that it was introduced into the high school curriculum. In a quarter of a century, it is quite a generation that never learned astronomy, hence the shocking results of the survey”.

Now schools teach the basics of the universe in elementary school and astronomy in high school. But how well children learn depends on the skill of their teachers, says an MCU teacher. In fact, there is no professional “astronomy teacher”, and teachers of physics, mathematics and computer science teach these courses. They don’t always have the skill to do it.

Other misconceptions

The Pew Research Center conducted a survey of what Americans know about science. Research reveals that most Americans can answer basic questions about several scientific terms and concepts, such as the Earth’s layers. But some more complicated terms and applications are not well understood. 27% of respondents could not distinguish the definition of astronomy from astrology, and a fifth did not know that ocean tides and the moon’s gravitational pull are related. According to the Pew Research Center survey, levels of science knowledge are similar by age, although there are some differences in the scale of the questions. On average, people aged 65 and over answered 7.1 out of 11 questions correctly, while people aged 18 to 29 answered 6.6 questions correctly.

In addition, one in five Russians believe that prehistoric humans could have lived at the same time as dinosaurs, according to VCIOM research. The question “Do you agree with the following statement: ‘Radioactive milk can be made safe by boiling it?’ 44% of respondents believe that genetically modified products cause cancer, up from 67% in 2014. The survey results show that the general level of scientific knowledge among Russians is increasing, although many continue to be misled into error on the rotation of celestial bodies.

Science Literacy

Old people who live in the countryside and love television, while having only graduated from high school – these are the characteristics of Russians with a low level of scientific literacy. Scientists precisely associate the deterioration of cognitive abilities with constant television viewing – memory and judgment deteriorate even in those who spend more than three hours a day in front of a screen, and modern retirees can change the channel all the daytime.

Young people have a high level of scientific literacy – more than 60% of respondents aged 18-24 answered all or almost all questions about the structure of the world correctly. People in big cities, who have higher education and often use the Internet, also know more scientific facts.

What to do?

The Moscow City University study shows that many residents have a low level of scientific literacy. Events around the world confirm this – during the pandemic, societies of anti-vaccination, anti-mask wearing and covid restrictions have emerged. Anti-scientific opinions hinder education and damage life and health.

“Even if we do not live in the Middle Ages, there is still a lot of anti-scientific knowledge – instead of the structure of the solar system, people know everything about the compatibility of zodiac signs, numerology”, – notes Sergei Makeev. “High school courses and subsequent training in colleges and universities should increase the number of people with a high level of scientific literacy and teach them to think critically. Gradually, the percentage of those who answered these questions correctly will increase, which means teachers and professors are doing everything right”.

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