My post earlier today prompted a few emails about the bizarre result that a substantial minority of Americans accept that the sun goes around the earth. The General Social Science variable is EARTHSUN, and it asks:
Now, does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth?
The answers are “Earth around the Sun,” “Sun around the Earth,” and “Don’t Know.” A substantial minority of Americans answer #2. What’s going on here? This isn’t something limited to America. The same question has been asked internationally. I’ve underlined the geocentrism/heliocentrism question below:
I apologize for the small font. What you’re seeing though is that substantial minorities, on the order of 1/7th to 2/5th of people in the regions above give the wrong answer on whether the earth goes around the sun, or vice versa. Is geocentrism rampant? No, I don’t think so. My explanation is that many people don’t think scientifically habitually, so scientific facts aren’t background priors which pop up reflexively. On surveys which require a rapid first-blush reaction you may give the “intuitive” result, and only later realize that your answer was of course wrong. If you sat down and talked to most of the Americans who answered that the sun goes around the earth and showed them a solar system model and asked them about it I think they would be able to give the correct answer once properly primed in such a fashion.
Below is a side show generated from the GSS which measures reflexive geocentrism by demographic. I’ve combined the categories in the vocabulary test where N < 100 with their adjacent values. Remember that it is on a 0 to 10 scale, and correlates 0.70 with general intelligence. The educational category is broken down by the highest attained qualification.