A new national survey commissioned by the California Academy of Sciences and conducted by Harris Interactive reveals that the U.S. public is unable to pass even a basic scientific literacy test.
♦ Only 53% of adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.
♦ Only 59% of adults know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time.
♦ Only 47% of adults can roughly approximate the percent of the Earth’s surface that is covered with water.*
♦ Only 21% of adults answered all three questions correctly.
This, however, is surprising. In a recent interview with CNN’s Sanjay Gupta, former President Bill Clinton repeatedly referred to human embryos as “unfertilized,” adding that, if they were fertilized, they would “become human beings.” My emphases:
Clinton: I think—the answer is I think that we’ll work it through. When it’s—if it—particularly, if it’s done right. If it’s obvious that we’re not taking embryos that can—that under any conceivable scenario would be used for a process that would allow them to be fertilized and become little babies, and I think if it’s obvious that we’re not talking about some science fiction cloning of human beings, then I think the American people will support this. I think they’ll support it because we want to solve type 1 diabetes. We want to solve—we want to find out about whether Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s can be reversed. We want a whole range of other things. And I think at some point, you know—maybe it’s—decades down the way—if somebody severs an arm and you try to sew it back on, and you’re missing some component things, if you can figure out how to fill in the blanks, I think people would like that. So I think we’ll just have to debate it as we go along. I think—I was anxious for the president to do this and get this research going again—
Gupta: Any reservations?
Clinton: Well, my only—I don’t know that I have any reservations, but I was—he has apparently decided to leave to the relevant professional committees the definition of which frozen embryos would not be—are basically going to be discarded, because they’re not going to be fertilized. I think the American people believe it’s a pro-life decision to use an embryo that’s frozen—it’s never going to be fertilized for embryonic stem cell research, especially since now, notwithstanding some promising developments, most of the scientists in this field and the doctors will tell you they don’t know of any other source that’s as good as embryonic stem cells for all the various things that need to be researched. But those committees need to be really careful to make sure if they don’t want a big storm to be stirred up here, that any of the embryos that are used clearly have been placed beyond the pale of being fertilized before their use. There are plenty—there are a large number of embryos that we know are never going to be fertilized, where the people who are in control of them have made that clear. That—the research ought to be confined to those, and I think the committees will surely do that. But that I think is the only area of debate that I sort of saw.
I appreciated the fact that the president wants to send a strong signal that scientific research on everything from climate change to the genome to the embryonic stem cells was too politicized in the previous eight years, and he wants to put it back to science. I agree with that. But there are values involved that we all ought to feel free to discuss in all scientific research, and that is the one thing that—I think these committees need to make it clear that they’re not going to fool with any embryos where there’s any possibility, even if it’s somewhat remote, that they could be fertilized and become human beings.
To be honest, I don’t care whether or not people know that seventy percent of the earth is covered in water. It doesn’t really matter. But human embryos do matter, and it’s utterly unconsiounable that some of our most vocal policy makers don’t understand why.