The report, available at www.nsf.gov/statistics/indicators, recommends increased financing for basic research and greater “intellectual interchange” between researchers in academia and industry. The board also called for better efforts to track the globalization of manufacturing and services in the high-tech sector, and their implications for the American economy.
Over all, it said, surveys of science and mathematics education are both “disappointing and encouraging.” Fourth- and eighth-grade students in all ethnic groups showed improvement in math, the report said, but progress in science is far less robust. And knowledge gaps persist between demographic groups, with European- and Asian-Americans scoring higher than students from other groups.
Many Americans remain ignorant about much of science, the board said; for example, many are unable to answer correctly when asked if the Earth moves around the Sun (it does). But they are not noticeably more ignorant than people in other developed countries except on two subjects: evolution and the Big Bang. Although these ideas are organizing principles underlying modern biology and physics, many Americans do not accept them.
“These differences probably indicate that many Americans hold religious beliefs that cause them to be skeptical of established scientific ideas,” the report said, “even when they have some basic familiarity with those ideas.”