80% of Americans don't know what DNA is… so let's make fun of them!

I have been seeing this report posted all over and read a few reactions that claim the survey itself is terribly flawed and the results can’t be accurate. 

But what if it is? 

I’ve been all over the world and Americans definitely have a reputation, deserved and not so deserved, for being kinda dumb. However, the Smarter Than Thou Smugness in response posts and comments only serves to turn people away from learning. 

For myself, my science education in public schools was abysmal. Our text books were ancient and stopped at the end of the 1970’s. I didn’t take physics or biology or anatomy or computer science or statistics or anything like that. I had very little exposure to science writing. I had to seek out information on my own, which I mostly did after college. 

Without the internet I have no idea where I would have gotten information about scientific facts outside of Best Science Writing collections or bestseller non-fiction tomes. I left high school with a watery idea that DNA was a plastic model that won a Nobel prize and a vague understanding of photosynthesis. My ability to think critically about news reports concerning medical advances or groundbreaking research was terribly lacking. 

When I went back to school for a science degree I spent almost every single class in absolute wonder. I felt like I was, literally, stunned by the things I was learning. Every other sentence from me during this time was “wait, really?!” When I took Immunology I asked, “how are we still alive?” so often that it became the name of our class Facebook group. 

I was also really angry at points. I felt like I had been denied something wonderful and beautiful at a time when my mind was more able to absorb. I was (am) angry that we deny basic scientific education to public school students. I am angry that so many students leave high school lacking understanding about the natural world. I am angry that so many fellow citizens continue to lack information about science and technology. We expect people to be able to make complex decisions about healthcare, environment and politics without equipping each other with the fundamentals. Then, we ridicule each other because of that lack. 

I wish articles like these would be required to include a primer on the topic. OK fine, 80% of Americans don’t know what DNA is, so how can we help that? Here’s a little paragraph describing it and some links to videos with excellent explanations. In my opinion, any small step towards helping expand knowledge without shaming or ridiculing makes a huge difference.

Food Demand Survey (See page 4)