The U.S. government spends about $60 billion a year subsidizing scientific research, and science and engineering graduate programs at U.S. universities are so good that they attract many of the best and brightest students from the rest of the world [source: National Science Foundation]. Surrounded by technological marvels, from talking automated teller machines and telecommunications satellites to supermarket tomatoes that are genetically modified to retain their flavor, Americans must be pretty darn smart when it comes to science, huh?
Well, guess again. The unsettling truth is that U.S. adults tend to be embarrassingly ignorant when it comes to basic scientific knowledge. A 2009 Harris Interactive survey found that only 53 percent knew that it took a year for the Earth to revolve around the Sun, and only 59 percent knew that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not exist at the same time, the way they did in "The Flintstones." And just 47 percent correctly stated -- within a 10 percent range of error -- that about 70 percent of the Earth's surface is covered by water. Just one in five U.S. adults could answer all three of those questions correctly [source: ScienceDaily]. A 2011 University of Michigan study found that only 28 percent of American adults had enough scientific knowledge to be able to read the New York Times' Tuesday Science section and understand it. Admittedly, that's an improvement from a 1988 study, when only 10 percent of adults could make sense of the Times' science articles [source: ScienceDaily].
So obviously, we've got quite a way to go to achieve anything resembling universal scientific literacy. But for those of you who feel the desperate urge to change the subject when someone mentions the Higgs boson, massively parallel supercomputing or the escalating debate over whether dinosaurs had feathers, fear not. We're going to start you off easy, with the answers to 10 really basic science questions that everybody should know how to answer.