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Awareness of Darwin not evolving, finds University of Kent survey

27 March 2009 Kent, University of

What has the public learned from the Darwin 200 celebrations?

A survey carried out by students on the newly created MSc in Science, Communication and Society at the University of Kent has revealed a disappointing level of knowledge regarding the life and works of one of Britain’s best-known scientists, Charles Darwin.

A simple survey composed of four questions was carried out on the University of Kent’s Canterbury campus and in Canterbury city centre, with surveyors approaching people at random.

Despite the fact that his portrait is on the back of a ten pound note, less than half of those surveyed were able to select Darwin’s picture from a selection of five bearded Victorians.

Knowledge of Darwin’s work was even more disappointing. The general public and university members alike scored lower than they should have done by simply guessing on questions relating to the content of his book.

For example, when asked to identify the type of animal most prominently featured in On The Origin Of Species, only 14% were able to correctly select birds from a list of five options. The most popular answer was ‘monkeys’. The surveyors speculated that TV coverage emphasising Darwin’s relevance for human evolution has been at the expense of an understanding of what he actually wrote.

Derek Fleming, one of the researchers, commented: ‘Although the results displayed a disappointing level of knowledge regarding Darwin, the process was interesting as a science communication exercise. Nearly all of the respondents were very eager to discover the correct answers.’

The students will unveil their full results at the University of Kent on Monday 30 March.

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  • Charles Darwin - © This image is for illustration only and subject to copyright and may not be used or copied in any way without prior permission from Science Photo Library

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