(Update: See also an ABC News (Australia) report on it here. )
The report on the survey, which was conducted just over a week ago by Auspoll, seems show some disturbing results, though others are mildly encouraging.
For example, 30% of Australians think humans and dinosaurs coexisted, and 39% don't realize it takes a year for the Earth to orbit the Sun. On the other hand, I found that 13% of people knew that 3% of the world's water was fresh surprisingly high.
The survey replicates a survey conducted in 2009 by Harris Interactive for the California Academy of Sciences. The press release (which contains all the information I can find online) only describes a brief subset of the results, but I have compared everything I have information on.
Steve Novella commented on the US survey last year; his questions and criticisms would apply to both surveys.
Summary of the results of the Australian poll (correct answers underlined):
Q1: How long does it take for the Earth to go around the Sun?
One Year: 61
One Day: 28
One Month: 2
One Week: 1
Not Sure: 8
Q2: Is the following statement true or false? The earliest humans lived at the same time as dinosaurs.
Not Sure: 0
Q3: What percentage of the Earth’s surface is covered by water?
0-25% : 0
26-50% : 2
51-60% : 4
61-69% : 9
70% : 41
71-80% : 33
Not Sure: 6
Q4: What percentage of the Earth’s water is fresh water?
Not sure 22
Q5: Do you think that evolution is occurring?
Yes, I think evolution is currently occurring: 71
No, I do not think evolution is currently occurring: 8
No, I do not believe in evolution: 10
Not Sure: 11
Q6: Do you think that humans are influencing the evolution of other species?
Yes, I think humans are influencing the evolution of other species: 77
No, I do not think humans are influencing the evolution of other species: 7
No, I do not believe in evolution: 9
Not Sure: 7
Q7: In your opinion, how important is science education to the Australian economy?
Absolutely essential: 42
Very important: 38
Somewhat important: 16
Not at all important: 2
Not Sure: 2
One highly amusing outcome of this survey is that even though only 71% of people think "evolution is currently occurring", 77% think that "humans are influencing the evolution of other species". Presumably at least six percent of people think humans are affecting evolution while isn't happening. The cognitive dissonance must be astounding.
Here's the corresponding information I was able to pull out of the Calacademy press release:
- 53% of adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.
- 59% of adults know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time
- 47% of adults can approximate (within 5%) the percent of the Earth's surface that is covered with water.
- 15% of respondents answered this question with the exactly correct answer of 70%
- Less than 1% of U.S. adults know what percent of the planet's water is fresh (the correct answer is 3%).
- Science eduction: Essential or Very Important to the US economy: 77%
The Calacademy press release didn't mention the evolution questions, but we can do a comparison with another Harris Interactive poll (pdf) which suggests that rates of "do not believe in evolution" and "not sure" in Question 5 above are about half of the equivalent rates in the US, roughly consistent with other figures I have seen.
Here's a graphic showing a comparison of the corresponding the percentage of correct answers from the two surveys on Questions 1-4 and the percentage rating science education as "essential" or "very important" for the national economy:
(Graphic generated in the free statistical package R)
Australia is outperforming the US (pretty handily on some questions), but that may not be saying a whole lot.