Casey Luskin – Game show audiences and national intellect: a study

I am always amused by this statement at the bottom of the Evolution News and Views website. It says:

The misreporting of the evolution issue is one key reason for this site. Unfortunately, much of the news coverage has been sloppy, inaccurate, and in some cases, overtly biased. Evolution News & Views presents analysis of that coverage, as well as original reporting that accurately delivers information about the current state of the debate over Darwinian evolution. Click here to read more.

That being said, Casey Luskin shows just how accurate and unbiased his little news service can be, as he castigates the French for being scientifically illiterate. His evidence? A game show audience flubbed on heliocentrism.

Earlier this summer, Mike Gene posted on Telic Thoughts a YouTube video where a contestant on a French version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” was asked a question where he had to decide whether it was the Sun, or the Moon that revolved around the Earth. The contestant (see below) wasn’t sure, so he polled the audience for the right answer. After the poll, 56% of the French audience thought the Geocentric model of the Solar System was correct, i.e. they thought the sun revolved around the earth, rather than visa versa. After much deliberation, this French contestant went with the majority vote and decided that the Sun revolves around the earth. What does this say about scientific literacy in France? Bear in mind that Eugenie Scott’s survey in Science found that in France, “80% or more of adults accepted the concept of evolution.” Her supplementary data also boasted that French adults were among “the least likely to believe in divine control and to pray frequently.” If those numbers are true, this video suggests that accepting evolution and rejecting religion does not necessarily mean you are scientifically literate. The funny YouTube video is below:

I shudder to think how much worse we Americans would look if we were evaluated based on the intelligence of our game show audiences. But there you have it. Luskin bases his analysis of scientific literacy of foreign populations not from specific studies testing scientific knowledge, literacy and competence across populations but from French “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.”

Heckuva job there Casey. Keep it up, you’re making my job easy.


  1. I have visions of Luskin taking exit polls on IC, common descent, and global warming as the audience leaves the Jerry Springer Show.

  2. In fairness to Luskin, finding a recent international comparison of basic scientific literacy did take a whole 2 or 3 minutes of googling. The US came out slightly ahead in knowing that the Earth orbits the Sun, with 75% getting it right vs 67% in the EU, and various differences in knowledge of different things. But if Youtube clips of gameshow contestants are our source of information, what to make of a talkshow host not knowing whether the Earth is flat? By Luskin’s standard it shows that God-believing evolution-rejecters are morons. The truth, of course, is that the YouTube clip is just a single instance from which one cannot infer any wider meaning.

  3. minimalist

    I’ve heard that the UK audience likes to deliberately give wrong answers in order to screw with the contestants. Don’t know if that’s true or not (it will no doubt require some further study), but it’s a possibility in France as well.

  4. Alex Reger

    Excellent point, Mark, but I don’t think we should be so quick to criticize Parisian game show audiences. The differential equations of general relativity are invariant, among other things, to changes in rotation, position, rotational inertia (thus the name relativity). If we accept general relativity as a correct description of space and time–which is pretty much the scientifically literate consensus–then no experiment could let us distinguish between the Sun orbiting the Earth and the Earth orbiting the Sun. Since we can’t address the question experimentally without tossing general relativity out the window, it’s hard for me to see how geocentrism vs. heliocentrism is a scientific question at all.

  5. Alex, FCD

    The problem is that if you draw the solar system with the earth at the centre the orbits come out looking all funny-like.

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