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5MinuteConsult Journal Club

Evolution Goes Mainstream


Public Understanding of Science, 2021; 096366252110359 DOI: 10.1177/09636625211035919

Study Summary

Starting in 1985, a survey conducted every two year (biennial) by the National Science Board (funded by the National Science Foundation) on adult science civics literacy asked US citizen if they agree or disagree with the following: “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.”

From 1985-2010, the respondents were split 50/50 on this question. By 2016, the survey found over 50% of Americans now agree with this statement. The increase is theorized to be related to a doubling of the number of US citizens having a college degree. The continued hesitancy to accept evolution is thought to be due to religious fundamentalism.

In a separate study from 2005 of 34 developed nations, the US ranked second only to Turkey in its low acceptance of evolution.

Emotional thoughts, tied to self-identity, prove more powerful than science and logic. Emotional thought is not changed with facts, or even personal suffering (as many anti-vaxxers continue to refuse the vaccine, and even the virus’ existence, while being vented in the ICUs across the US).

Only time, and the continued exposure to education at a very early age can overcome these beliefs. But, in many US states, the teaching of evolution is sometimes prevented, or, at a minimum, taught as “just a theory” with instruction in other theories, like “creationism.” My years in Texas, where the state’s school board controls (read: prevents) use of textbooks that speak of evolution, makes me so sad.

When a patient pushes back on COVID vaccines, my internal voice yells “show them the data.” Doing so changes no one’s mind. But telling my patients I often find myself crying alone at the end of the day because of patients believing their “own research” over my care and advice.

Support science-based education in your world, especially in the public schools. My hope for the sliver lining of COVID is in future years, science is better accepted by all, including all groups of religion and political leanings.

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Contributed by Frank J. Domino, MD, August 25, 2021