Discovery Guides Areas


Scientific Literacy
(Released September 2007)

  by Carolyn Scearce  


Key Citations

Visual Resources

News & Scholars

Science Information and Popular Culture


The second biggest factor contributing to levels of adult scientific literacy is informal science education resources (Miller, 2002). Such sources include science articles in newspapers and magazines, science web sites, museums, public libraries, and science books. According to surveys in the SEI 2006, television has been and continues to be the largest contributing source to science knowledge in the U.S. and many other countries world wide. Much of this information is obtained inadvertently, either through news stories or entertainment programming.

In recent years the internet has become the second largest information source Americans turn to for science and technology news. The internet is the only information source that has been steadily attracting larger audiences to science and technology information in the past few years. According to a 2004 survey, 73% of respondents had a computer in their household, up from 31% a decade earlier. In the same year 70% of households had internet access, up from 59% in 2001 (SEI, 2006). Internet users are more likely to search for specific information. Topics of great interest among this audience include the weather, technology, and health issues. The internet audience tends to be younger, better educated, and more affluent than the public at large. This can be dramatically observed in trends in internet use. Approximately 50% of college graduates use the internet on a regular basis, compared to fewer than 20% of high school graduates and fewer than 10% of those who failed to finish high school. Another factor affecting patterns of internet usage is access to broadband. Broadband internet users spend more time on the internet, seek a greater variety of information, and are more likely to participate in activities such as distance learning.

graph of rising college enrollment by income
Figure 4: College enrollment rates have increased over the past 3 decades, however gaps exist between social and economic groups. National Science Foundation

U.S. residents are more likely to visit museums, zoos, aquariums, and public libraries than their European and Asian counterparts. Results from a 2001 survey showed that 30% of U.S. residents had visited a museum in the last twelve months, compared to 16% of Europeans and 14% of Japanese residents. 58% of U.S. residents had visited either a zoo or aquarium in the past year, while only 9% of Europeans and 32% of Japanese residents had visited zoos or aquariums in the same time frame (SEI, 2006). There is a modest increase in rates of scientific literacy for those who participate in such activities.

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