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Science in Mind

Basic knowledge of Darwin’s theory lost in some classes

Darwin’s theory of evolution is a tenet of modern science, but over the years, attacks from nonscientific circles have framed it in controversy.

In Massachusetts, a biotech and science capital of the world with leading universities and high rates of acceptance of evolution, we have been mostly insulated from the debate. But a new study, published by the journal New England Science Public: Series Evolution suggests that even here, attitudes toward science and evolution have room to grow.

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Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth surveyed faculty at New England colleges and universities, educators who train teachers, and college students.

Some results were striking:

  A quarter of the faculty, half of those who trained teachers, and a third of college students did not know that humans are apes, related to chimpanzees.

  A third of the faculty, two-thirds of people who train teachers, and three-quarters of college students didn’t understand evolution. For example, they thought giraffes’ necks got longer because a giraffe acquired a longer neck during its lifetime and passed down the trait, a discredited theory.

  One in every 10 non-biology majors — and a surprising 1 in every 15 biology majors — reported they were creationists.

The study concludes: “Long-term harmonious coexistence between science/evolution and creationism — and all its forms — is illusory. Societies will struggle indefinitely with this incompatibility.”

Carolyn Y. Johnson can be reached at cjohnson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @carolynyjohnson.
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