One in four Americans 'don't know the Earth orbits the Sun' and only half believe in evolution

Only 39 per cent of Americans believe 'the universe began with a huge explosion'

With the possible exception of 'is the Earth flat?' it is (according to Discover magazine at least) the most basic question in science: 'does the Earth orbit the sun?'

The good news is that 74 per cent of Americans know the answer.

The very bad news is that means 26 per cent really don't.

These results, which appear in the National Science Foundation (NSF) survey of 2,200 Americans, will form part of a report set to be presented to Barack Obama and lawmakers in congress, and are likely to once again raise the issue of educational standards in the United States.

Other startling results from the survey included that only 39 per cent of Americans believe "the universe began with a huge explosion". And fewer than half of the people surveyed (48 per cent) agreed that "human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals".

Meanwhile, 51 per cent of Americans knew that antibiotics don't kill viruses.

The study also demonstrated that a total of 42 per cent of Americans thought astrology was either "very scientific" or "sort of scientific".

The survey, as reported by Agence France-Presse, is carried out every couple of years in order to analyse whether America is making educational progress.

Despite the somewhat negative findings of the study there is a significant glimmer of hope.

The survey revealed that nearly 90 per cent of Americans believed the benefits of science outweigh any dangers. Thirty per cent believe science deserves more funding from government, and around 90 per cent expressed an interest in learning about medical discoveries.

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