Teaching the theory of evolution
A study shows that science-skeptical curricula in the United States have long-term consequences both for attitudes toward science and for life choices.
10/10/2022 · News · ifo Institut Leibniz-Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung an der Universität München e. V. · Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaften, Raumwissenschaften · Forschungsergebnis
Removing the theory of evolution from school curricula increases science skepticism and influences students’ career choices, finds a new study by the ifo Institute. “Students often go on to reject the theory of evolution even in adulthood. What’s more, it also reduces the likelihood that they will choose a career in the natural sciences,” says Benjamin Arold, a researcher at the ifo Institute and ETH Zurich. The consequences for career choices are most apparent in the life sciences such as biology.
The study shows that science-skeptical curricula in the United States have long-term consequences both for attitudes toward science and for life choices. This result could also be significant for other countries . “In Germany, anti-science attitudes are widespread among the population: in addition to a rejection of the theory of evolution, we find them in, say, the topic of climate change or in people’s assessment of the opportunities and risks of vaccinations. Policymakers should incorporate current scientific findings into curriculum design. This could help reduce the shortage of skilled workers, for example in the natural sciences in Germany,” Arold says.
In the United States, about 40 percent of the population reject Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Dealing with the theory comprehensively in US schools could reduce this proportion by 20 percentage points, according to the study’s calculations. Such a scenario would also increase the proportion of biologists in the population by 13 percent. However, teaching the theory of evolution has no impact on religious or political attitudes.
The study is based on survey data from more than 6 million adults in the United States who attended high school between 1990 and 2009. Some US states have changed the course content relating to evolutionary theory as part of educational reforms. First, the study compares the attitudes of different groups within a US state at different points in time. Then it contrasts them with attitudes in other US states where educational standards had not been reformed at those points in time.
Benjamin W. Arold (2022): Evolution vs. Creationism in the Classroom: The Lasting Effects of Science Education, in: ifo Working Paper No. 379.