After reading my posts on the startlingly low occurrence of heliocentrism in the U.S., several folks have asked me what the corresponding numbers are in Canada.  I’ve done a bit of searching, and have so far unable to find a Canadian data set which directly addresses this question.  My sense though, was that the spirit of the question does not demand a direct answer as such, but is rather intended to knock this admittedly smug Canada-dweller off his high horse (otherwise, they could have asked me about Italy, or the Sudan).

Accordingly, I searched for studies which featured direct comparisons of different types of literacy between countries.  The best I’ve found so far is the “Findings from the Condition of Education 2006: U.S. Student and Adult Performance on International Assessments of Educational Achievement“, a roundup prepared by the U.S. Department of Education which summarizes results from a great number of international literacy comparisons.  Anyone who’s interested in this topic should have a look at the document…it’s a great read.

The two studies quoted are the TIMSS and PISA.  TIMSS is a great series of studies which were run in 1995, 1999 and 2003 which looked at cross-country scientific knowledge.  Unfortunately, Canada did not participate in the 2003 run, so I won’t include the data here.  TIMSS 2007 is currently underway, so we’ll have to wait until December 2008 to see what the results are.  TIMSS 1999 featured a comparison of math and science literacy in 8th graders in which Canada scored 531 — “significantly higher” than the U.S. score of 515.

Table 9 in the FCE document shows the results of the science literacy data gathered as part of PISA 2003.  Here Canada scores 519 — “measurably higher” than the U.S. score of 491.  This data quantifies the scientific knowledge of 15 year olds.

The FCE’s Table 10 shows a very interesting summary of the results.  Looking at Math and Science, it seems that the U.S. remains competitive through the 8th grade, and more or less collapses thereafter.

So the nutshell answer seems to be yes, Canadians know more about science than people in the U.S.  We also have Universal health care and don’t start wars.

3 Responses to “General Science Knowledge in Canada vs. U.S.”

I think the real question isn’t who is better educated than who, but why the Americans are so poorly educated. Further, why does it generally delight the educated Americans to see empirical evidence of the others’ failure? I remember a book called innumeracy that sat gathering dust on many a college grad’s coffee table which was essentially masturbation like glee over how math inept most Americans are, with a slight nod towards correcting that. I for one feel not in the slightest motivated to better educated people, but this failure of mine, does not fill me with glee.

You make a good point. It seems to me that the root of the satisfaction lies in the constant need for one to bolster self confidence in the face of crippling self doubt about one’s own life choices and situation.

Except that it seems to be so uniquely a US phenomenon… or is crippling self-doubt also a US national trait?
People use to describe certain appalling situations as making them laugh grimly because they there was nothing else you could really do in the face of the tragedy. Now we (Americans) sort of just always laugh, because it’s easier.

Something to say?