Recently I posted some findings about sex differences in the public understanding of science. I criticized the Pew quiz for having items which were far too easy, and proposed a few harder items, on vaccinations and the expanding universe.
Before I could refine questions on those two subjects, a reader reminded me of a delightful program in which Harvard graduates in 1987 were asked “why do the seasons happen?”
I tried to put this particular question into the very simple and very restricted format of a Twitter poll. Of course my followers are not a random selection of the public (see below). I was reaching out to an elite. Of course I know I should look for samples which are representative and also sizeable. Of course, of course. 303 non-random respondents are not enough, though possibly more than in many social psychology papers.
However, my intention was to try to create one science item in a science quiz, which can later be improved. I know that an open-ended question is far better, because respondents are not prompted in any way. I made the Twitter question as simple as I could, but probably should have stuck to “why do seasons happen?”. However, physicist Roy Bishop asked his students in 1993 “What makes summer hotter than winter?” Yes, he was in Canada, so he had an geographic interest in the topic
Given 4 reply options, respondents know one of them must be correct, which makes their task easier. I found it hard to make the three other options equally plausible. You may be able to do better. As it is, the quiz may have taught people some science, which was not my intention. My very brief “correct” answer is insufficient as a full explanation, but will have to do for the time being.
So, a majority got it right, and only a minority went for the traditional, but wrong, answer. Only 2% went for the silly answers.
Disclaimer: my Twitter followers are 75% male. 57% are in the 18-35 years age range. 68% of followers are interested in science news. In brief, their scores ought to be high.