Britain’s Scientific Misconceptions Laid Bare
Dr. Christian Jessen performed the first ever lung transplant, the Periodic Table is grouped by alphabetical order and Proxima Centauri is “Earth’s twin planet”
London, 03 January 2012
- Britain is in serious need of a science lesson as Encyclopædia Britannica reveals the biggest scientific misconceptions across the country.
- A UK-wide science test among 1,000 people found that almost a third of us think TV’s Dr. Christian Jessen performed the first ever lung transplant (nine per cent think it was the Simpsons’ Dr. Nick Riviera), more than one in six (16 per cent) believe Back to the Future’s Dr. Emmett Brown discovered radioactivity, while seven per cent believe Professor Brian Cox wrote the Principia Mathematica.
- But Britain’s (mis)information goes far beyond confusing science fact and fiction from film and television, as the research reveals many of us still struggle with basic concepts in Biology, Chemistry and Physics. Almost half (46 per cent) believe that Oxygen, rather than Nitrogen, is the main component of air, nearly one in five (19 per cent) think Earth’s twin planet is Proxima Centauri, rather than Venus and 15 per cent even think that the periodic table is arranged alphabetically.
- The research also shows that common misconceptions are often accepted as fact. Only one in 20 (six per cent) correctly answered that humans use all of their brain capacity, compared to the near third (30 per cent) who incorrectly believe it’s only 10 per cent, while almost six in 10 (58 per cent) confused our solar system with a galaxy, believing the former contains more than 10 million stars.
- On average, the respondents answered 8 out of 20 correctly; with only one per cent managing to answer every single question.
- To help teachers tackle their students’ common scientific misconceptions, Encyclopædia Britannica is launching Britannica Pathways: Science, a new online resource which aims to improve students’ knowledge of core areas of science. The resource encourages the development of many key skills, including critical thinking, discussion, research and evaluation, through interactive classroom activities and teacher-led discussions. Students are also encouraged to examine evidence and test hypotheses through curriculum-relevant ideas and activities.
- Ian Grant, Managing Director of Encyclopædia Britannica UK, said: “Many of us have grown up to believe certain things are true in science, without ever questioning them. And, as this research suggests, scientific misconceptions, once picked up, can stay with us for our whole lives.”
- “Because misconceptions are often picked up early and easily, it’s important that our teachers are given the necessary tools to tackle these misunderstandings head-on. Britannica Pathways: Science has been specifically designed to tackle misconceptions from an early age, so that they don’t become ingrained for life.”
Notes to editors:
- About the Research:
Research was carried out online by PCP among 1,000 UK adults in October 2011.
- About Encyclopædia Britannica:
Britannica was founded in Edinburgh in 1768 at the height of the period of European history known as the “Enlightenment”. Its aim was to publish clear, current and correct information, based on a scientific approach to knowledge.
- It is the most comprehensive and oldest continuously published reference work in the English language and is revered worldwide for its editorial integrity. Britannica strives to help its users become confident global citizens, by delivering expert and up-to-date knowledge and being global leaders in providing a source for life-long learning.
- Encyclopædia Britannica (UK) Ltd is a subsidiary of Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. who are leading providers of learning and knowledge products. Britannica is proud to be one of the world's most trusted sources of information.
- In 2011 Encyclopædia Britannica was named as one of the UK’s most respected brands in the annual Consumer Superbrand Survey. Britannica was one of only eight media reference companies to make the top 500 brands in the UK and was the only one to be listed in the top 50.
- About Britannica Online & Mobile:
Today Encyclopædia Britannica has a larger and more diverse line of online and mobile products than ever before. Our outlook is shaped by our tradition of excellence and an understanding of what knowledge seekers need in the digital age.
- Since launching in 1994 Britannica Online has grown and developed an extensive range of online products for learners of all ages. The largest and most comprehensive is the Online Academic Edition, which delivers relevant, web-based content for further and higher education. It is continuously updated, revised and developed with new articles, allowing its users to research confidently with expert information and a host of research tools designed to support advanced study. For schools, the Online School Edition provides a comprehensive reference and education service specially designed for primary and secondary schools, while the Online Public Library Edition, delivers three encyclopedias for different levels, under one product.
- Alongside the traditional encyclopedias, Britannica has also increased its offering to educational institutions through two innovative products, Image Quest and Britannica Pathways: Science. Image Quest provides access to more than two million stunning images, sourced from some of the best collections in the world. Britannica Pathways: Science supports effective teaching for students aged 11 – 14 and tackles common misconceptions through interactive and discussion-led resources.
- In 2011 Britannica began an ambitious mobile publishing programme, launching nine titles in a series of educational mobile apps for children aged 8 -12 on a range of platforms. The nine titles were shortlisted as finalists in the 2011 e-learning awards in the Best use of Mobile Learning category. Following the launch of Britannica Kids Apps, a series of 60 games-based revision apps for Key Stages 2 – 4 will be released in the near future under the Britannica SmartStudy brand.
- For further information about Britannica and its products, please visit:
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