More than 40 per cent of Australians do not know how long it takes the Earth to travel around the sun, according to a new survey.
The Australian Academy of Science surveyed more than 1,500 people, asking them basic scientific questions.
It found nearly 30 per cent did not know if humans lived at the same time as dinosaurs, and that 41 per cent did not know it took the Earth a year to travel around the sun.
The academy’s Professor Les Field says movies like Jurassic Park may be to blame for some of the strange answers.
“Dinosaurs and humans missed each other by more than 60 million years,” he said.
“We do have some popular TV and some movies like Jurassic Park and some terrific graphics which make these things look incredibly real.
“When you see dinosaurs and humans running alongside each other and it makes it difficult for people to distinguish fact from fiction.”
The survey also found a decline in young people’s scientific knowledge in recent years.
Back in 2010 when people aged between 18 and 24 were asked the sun orbiting question, 73 per cent got it right.
But the most recent survey found that statistic had fallen to 62 per cent.
Professor Field suggested the decline was most probably from an increased reliance on technology to provide the answers quickly.
Survey should be a ‘wake-up call’
He says there could be an even further decline in science literacy if things do not change.
“I would hope that a survey like ours is a wake-up call that says there is an issue, an underlying issue that we need to address,” he said.
“If nothing else our education system really does have to have a focus on the fundamental sciences, the maths, the chemistry, the physics and biology, all the way through our school curriculum.
“[We need to ensure] that each of our students come through the system with an appropriate toolkit to be a part of the modern society that we live in.”
Professor Field believes society cannot underestimate the importance of science.
“Even if it’s as much looking under the bonnet of your car and understanding what superficially some of the bits do, or whether it is contributing to the debate that we are having around climate change or drugs in sport – all of these issues require a degree of scientific literacy simply to participate in the debate,” he said.
States around the country are in the process of implementing a national curriculum which ensures science education right through to year 10.
Robyn Aitken from the Science Teachers Association said it was a step in the right direction.
“When you get a new curriculum, there’s always a new energy around it, so teachers become more positive and they’re a bit more focused,” she said.
“They know: ‘I’ve got a new curriculum to do – how will we teach it?’ That’s always a good step.”