Americans' Science & Technology Smarts (Infographic)

Infographic: Results of a poll that tested Americans' knowledge of science and technology.
Only half polled knew what "fracking" was, and only 1 in 5 knew that nitrogen makes up most of Earth's atmosphere. (Image credit: Karl Tate, Infographics Artist)

The public's knowledge of science varies widely depending on the topic. Only half of those polled knew that “fracking” was used to extract natural gas from the ground, and only 1 in 5 knew that nitrogen makes up most of Earth’s atmosphere. Those polled also underestimated how well American high school students perfom on standardized science tests.

In the category of science in daily life and in the news:

  • 83 percent knew that sunscreen protects against ultraviolet radiation.
  • 77 percent knew that the major concern about overuse of antibiotics is resistant bacteria.
  • 65 percent knew that nanotechnology deals with small things.
  • 58 percent knew that the gas believed to cause rising temperatures is carbon dioxide.
  • 51 percent knew that the resource extracted in “fracking” is natural gas.

In the category of textbook science:

  • 78 percent knew that the main function of red blood cells is to carry oxygen.
  • 77 percent knew that the continents have been moving over millions of years and will continue to move.
  • 75 percent knew that a better way to test a new drug’s effectiveness was by using a control group.
  • 66 percent knew that all radioactivity is not man-made.
  • 66 percent knew that an example of a chemical reaction is nails rusting.
  • 48 percent knew that lasers do not work by focusing sound waves.
  • 47 percent knew that electrons are smaller than atoms.
  • 20 percent knew that nitrogen gas makes up most of Earth’s atmosphere.

The poll was conducted March 7-10, 2013, among a national sample of 1,006 adults 18 years of age or older living in the continental United States.

Karl Tate
LiveScience Infographic Artist
Karl has been Purch's infographics specialist across all editorial properties since 2010.  Before joining Purch, Karl spent 11 years at the New York headquarters of The Associated Press, creating news graphics for use around the world in newspapers and on the web.  He has a degree in graphic design from Louisiana State University.