The Christian Science Monitor has a quiz going around that allows you to test your science literacy. The 50-question quiz was not a particularly easy one. It covered a wide range of sciences including biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, geology, meteorology, and mathematics. I took the quiz and ended up answering 43 out of 50 questions correctly. Here are the 7 questions that I got wrong (I won’t tell you the correct answers in case you want to take the quiz yourself):
- How many nanometers are there in a centimeter? (I was off by 1 order of magnitude.)
- What is the heaviest noble gas? (I should have known this one.)
- Named for the 19th century English physicist, what unit of measurement is defined as the energy exerted by the force of one newton acting to move an object through a distance of one meter. (I mistook the nationality of the scientist I selected.)
- If you were to apply a net force of one Newton on a 200 gram object, what would be the acceleration of the object? (Forgot the formula.)
- Geologists categorize rocks into three types: Igneous, sedimentary, and what? (Guessed.)
- Over half the world’s supply of what element, which gets its name from the epithet of the Greek goddess Athena, is used in catalytic converters. (In hindsight, I should have known this based on the Greek epithet hint alone.)
- In quantum mechanics, the physical constant used to describe the size of quanta–denoted as h–is named after what German physicist.
Overall, however, 43 out of 50 isn’t too bad for someone without a degree in a physical or biological science. It amounts to an 86%, or a solid B. That I could manage a solid B in science literacy without having majored in a science is due to three things, I think:
- A good science foundation in high school. I took AP biology and AP physics in high school. I took the standard chemistry course. That AP physics course was taught by an outstanding teacher, Dr. Goldman. It was my first introduction to physics and it left a real impression on me.
- Isaac Asimov’s science essays. After graduating from college, I gradually made my way through all 399 of Isaac Asimov’s science essays that he wrote for the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF) from 1958 through his death in 1992. These essays taught me science in a way that I never learned it in high school or college–from a cumulative, historical perspective. This perspective made many of the concepts much easier to understand because you always started at the beginning, when nobody knew anything about a subject. You could also see the mistakes scientists made along the way and how they recognized them as such and corrected them. I was able to answer a good number of the questions on the quiz because I’d read Asimov’s essays.
- Keeping up with science through magazines like Scientific American, New Scientist, and Discover. Science is constantly evolving and there is no way for any one person to keep up with all of it. But my intent in reading these magazines (aside from the enjoyment I get from them) is to do my best to stay current with the trends and discoveries in all branches of science.
I wonder what the average score on the science literacy test is, but I am almost afraid to ask. I fear that an number I chose that seemed sufficiently low, would turn out to be not low enough.