On Science and Literacy

For those of you who have been disappointed by your scores on the science or environment portions of the Newsweek online quiz that ran in conjunction with our double issue on "What You Need to Know," rest assured: you are in good company.

Fifty years ago, British novelist and scientist C.P. Snow lamented the existence of "two cultures," the humanities and the sciences. In his 1956 essay and again in a series of lectures and a book by the same name, he noted that a gathering of intellectuals would be aghast if one of their number did not know who Shakespeare was. But there would be no such reaction if someone did not know the second law of thermodynamics.

Now that science and technology underpin the world economy and give nations a competitive edge as never before, it would be nice to report that science illiteracy is, among educated people, a thing of the past. Not even close.

See how a panel of accomplished writers and, yes, scientists did when the British newspaper The Guardian asked them such basics as the age of the Earth.