Messaging fail – almost half of Pew survey respondents don't know the 'CO2 warms the atmosphere' claim

People send me stuff.

In my Inbox today was a link to a Science Poll conducted by the Pew Research Center. The aim of the poll was to gauge American knowledge of science and it is a parallel poll to one conducted by telephone. Given the millions spent on global warming/climate change messaging, I was shocked to see the results of this question on Carbon Dioxide. Note what I circled in red.


Similarly, I thought far more people would get this grade school science question right. Only 20% did.


The choices for both of the questions were amazingly simple, and I thought these would score far higher in the general population. One has to wonder about the 24% of college graduates that also missed the CO2 question and the 69% that missed the Nitrogen question. I also wonder what percentage answered “Carbon Dioxide” as the primary gas of Earth’s atmosphere instead of Nitrogen.

I got 100% on the test by the way.

You can take it yourself here:

See how your results compare with the 1,006 randomly sampled adults that took part in the Pew national telephone survey and review how you responded to each question.

For more findings from the survey, read “Public’s Knowledge of Science and Technology.”


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Dodgy Geezer

Why should I think that ‘most scientists believe CO2 in the atmosphere causes the temperature to rise’?
We have had increased amounts of CO2 over the last 15 years, but no atmosphere temperature rise. I would have thought that was good evidence that increasing CO2 does NOT cause temperature rise…?

Kevin Cave

Also achieved 100%


Fuzzy first question. Water vapor would be a better answer than CO2, but who’s counting. Maybe 42% were smarter than you think?


Well that was easy. would be curious to see in a few days after all the WUWT’ers take the quiz how far we blow the bell curve on the test

Tom G(ologist)

OK – so I tried this. It is very basic but covers a range of topics, so I guess it at least is an indication of the level of knowledge on science topics. The interesting thing is that a score of 100% puts one in the upper 7th percentile. This is BASIC stuff, and only 7% of respondents achieved a scope at or near 100%. This is a powerful indicator as to why the AGW propaganda machine has been so successful.

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”
― Albert Einstein


Why would you be surprised Anthony? Look at some of the Man-on-the-Street interviews condicted by late night comedians. People cannot identify photos of the V. President and the Pope, some think Obamacare and the ACA are two Seperate things. These was a recent poll and people could not identify which political party the President was a member of. While these interviews might be funny, in reality they show we are in a very sad state. Gee, don’t over whelm the intelligence of the America people and expect them to identify the chemical components of the aphmospher. They have far too many other issues to contend with like which celebrity is have a baby. Remember, the USA is filled with ‘low Imformation’ (voters) people.


How anyone could get less than 100% is beyond me.
Very disturbing.


never mind, took a closer look and noticed that it only represents the original phone call group


I’ve seen more than one commenter elsewhere say “If you think Carbon Dioxide is so harmless why don’t you close your garage doors and stand in there with your car engine running!”. And that’s someone who was interested enough about the subject to read an article and comment on it. Most people aren’t even that interested. Most people haven’t deliberately ingested any science since school and just know it’s not for them.
In a forum like this it’s easy to forget that even the layest person here – quite possibly me – is more interested and clued up on the subject than the vast majority of the population.
That’s one reason that the CAGW farce has had such legs, most people know that they know nothing about the subject and assume that the “experts” know what they are talking about.

Vince Causey

Perhaps the respondents to the first question replied “Water vapour is the gas that most scientists say causes temperatures to rise.” So we don’t know how thick they really are unless we know their alternative answers.


Too bad they missed the most important part about double-blind testing, i.e. that the half who doesn’t get the medicine doesn’t know they’re not getting it.
-Frank (13/13)

I got my age and gender right!!


Well, Vince Causey, I think we can guess how uninformed they are if only 20% got the right answer to “Which gas makes up most of the Earth’s atmosphere?”

Roy UK

Its not Carbon Dioxide that is causing the problems in the atmosphere. Any idiot knows that Global Warming is caused by CARBON. As in “We have to reduce our CARBON footprint”.




Note with interest that women scored better than men on two medical questions, about drug testing procedure & antibiotic resistance. Shocking how few knew the composition of the atmosphere. The CO2 question was OK with me, since the alternatives weren’t GHGs, or at least not to the same extent. Water vapor wasn’t an option.

UK Marcus

Just try asking anyone ‘what is the % of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere?’ And then, ‘of that % how much is created by human activity?
The highest answer I have received so far is 60%…


13/13 here too. Sadly only 7% got all right, and they were pretty easy.

Gene Selkov

They allow the question about carbon dioxide to be skipped.

Eustace Cranch

Michael Moon says:
October 8, 2013 at 8:36 am
“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”
― Albert Einstein
Dumb “quotes” misattributed to Einstein, Lincoln, et al really irritate me.
BTW also 100%. A populace that can’t answer 80% of those very easy questions is in trouble.


I took the test and scored 100% as well…does this skew the results since I am not American?

Bill Yarber

The correct answer is not “CO2” but water vapor. CO2 is a trivial GHG, only 3-4% the impact of H2O. I’m surprised at you. The makers of the survey are the true dummies.

Steve Oregon

Well this just shows how successful the fossil fuel industry investments in disinformation have been.
All those checks to Anthony W, Tim B, Willis E, Steve M and Lord M have really paid off.
Next thing we’ll get is some crap like cheap energy and energy independence from all the fracking etc. and dirty jobs and bad money form shipping coal.
It’s obvious we have crossed the tipping point of Peak Truth and are plummeting into the abyss of
our Fossil Fuel demise.
All of our government and academic institutions simply could not compete with ruinous industry.
Not even Obama could save us. And that is very disturbing. Right when I thought we were about to be rescued, poof, all is lost.
Let me be the first to say Happy Thanksgiving.

Dodgy Geezer

Well, radon is radioactive. So it ought to emit heat… 🙂

O Olson

The writers of this survey didn’t seem to know that one of the questions didn’t even have the right answer as one of the options. I as a farmer have been watching the oil industry fracking the Viking formation for oil at least since the early 1980’s up here in Canada, and yes it is the same process. Every well drilled here (nearly all horizontal now) is and has always had to be fracked to get anything to come out of the hole. So the right answer should have been oil AND gas.

Chris B

The poor results overall explains how the exaggerated CAGW hypothesis got its legs.

Bruce Cobb

I’m not at all surprised at the result of the CO2 question. It is a question primarily about the “consensus”, and thus is a political one. The question is fraught with assumptions, and is dishonest.

PeterB in Indianapolis

“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”
That is the actual Einstein quote. And yes, Eustace, Einstein really DID say that, so there is no mis-attribution, merely a slight misquote by Michael Moon, so I guess you don’t need to be so irritated.

PeterB in Indianapolis

Steve Oregon forgot the /sarc tag, but I think we all understood it to be there.


I absolutely CANNOT believe only 7% of the people taking this test morons got a 100%.
7%??? Really?? I think my dog could have scored 100%, but she didn’t want to take it and I didn’t push her…
It’s disgusting and frightening to realize just how terrible the US public school system has become.
This was really depressing.

O Olson

Dodgy Geezer says:
October 8, 2013 at 8:29 am
I noticed this too. I’m married to a scientist (a real one) and I don’t think we have any idea what MOST scientists think about CO2 or how much it contributes to temperature rise. I think you’d have to have some one sit down and casually talk to every one of them without them knowing they are being surveyed to get straight answers and a valid result. In other words, the scientists surveyed would need to be blind to the study itself.

Michael Gersh

Artwest – most people would say that is is carbon monoxide that is the gas to fear when you leave the car running in the garage. Since modern cars don’t produce it anymore, your question was trickier than you might have thought. It would probably get a worse score than the one about nitrogen. The right answer would be aspyxiation from lack of oxygen, which would kill you before the carbon dioxide rose to lethal levels.


I suppose that does explain how so many people can be duped into thinking nitrogen inflating their tires is so much better, only mild advantage is that it has less moisture content, but a good extractor in the air line will take care of that too


I got the question wrong about CO2 (didn’t answer). I can’t presume to know what most scientists think about CO2. Why would I care about what most scientists think? Are we done discovering things in Science?


None of this surprises me, the poor scores on even the most basic of science questions I could have predicted from my time as an undergrad. I did the usual undergrad slave labor for the dept of physics, tutor, grade papers/tests, teach lab classes. I got talked into grading papers and doing office hours tutoring for Physics 101, which should have been labeled Physics For Those Too Stupid To Realize They Should Be In Biology For Their Science Class Requirement.
The instructor wanted me to not just mark homework questions wrong or right, but to write little notes explaining why they were wrong, and whoo boy, what a complete load of utter nonsense they would right, showing that any and all abstract reasoning was beyond them. One question really stood out in my mind, it was a question why doesn’t the moon fall into the earth? They’d regurgitate the book answer, the moon is falling but it falls away from the straight line path it’d have without the earth’s gravity and was falling around the earth. Next question, why doesn’t the earth fall into the sun? Answers? It’s too big. It’s too far away. Absolutely no ability to understand the concept and realize it applies to every similar situation. Good lord.
We had a course called Physics for Education Majors, and to be honest looking at the average student in that class it is no surprise to me education sucks in this country. It was a prime course for volunteering to be the lab guy for, as it usually had about 35 people, 1 or two guys, the rest girls, and out of the 33 at least 28 would be good looking to hot hot hot. And we used to joke the whole class had only one brain and they passed it around. It was funny then, but I should have realized that these were the kinds of people who were going to wind up as teachers, probably math/science ones, God Help Us should have been my thoughts back then.


I haven’t checked the poll yet but a good question would be:
Q. What is the most important greenhouse gas in Earth’s atmosphere?

Guardian – Grace Adams said:
…. whether by replacing fossil fuel with renewable energy or by capturing CO2 (most important greenhouse gas) and storing it……

IPCC – Climate Change 2007: Working Group I
Water vapour is the most important greenhouse gas, and carbon dioxide (CO2) is the second-most important one. “

Eustace Cranch

PeterB in Indianapolis says:
October 8, 2013 at 9:07 am
“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.” That is the actual Einstein quote. And yes, Eustace, Einstein really DID say that…
As I would say to Michael Mann: “bring data, prove it, and show your work.” Nullius In Verba.


Err…write not right above. Apparently I’m not above misteaks…
BTW, on that elementary physics course, my mentor/prof talked me into it. It’s great, says he, you’ll learn a lot, and you get a copy of the book! What can I possibly learn from Phys 101 I crankily replied. Turns out he was absolutely right, if you can’t explain a concept simply and succinctly and get an ignorant and/or unintelligent person to grasp it, you yourself don’t understand it well. I learned a lot of basic physics in that course that I only thought I knew.
Kind of like the story of Napoleon’s corporal. Napoleon would draft up his orders and then get the stupidest corporal in the army to listen to his orders for the upcoming battle. He would refine and rewrite his orders until this stupid, boneheaded corporal understood them and could relay them accurately. Smart man Napoleon, what good is it if only the smart guy understands when most of your army is not that smart or educated.


Based on the choices, CO2 is the most correct answer, and it DOES cause “slight” warming, or rather, slightly insulates.


Steve Oregon says:
October 8, 2013 at 8:58 am
“Not even Obama could save us. And that is very disturbing. Right when I thought we were about to be rescued, poof, all is lost. ”
Steve, have you considered becoming a comedian? That’s actually pretty funny.


Matt says:
October 8, 2013 at 9:27 am
“Based on the choices, CO2 is the most correct answer, and it DOES cause “slight” warming, or rather, slightly insulates.”
CO2 does not insulate. As opposed to, say N2, it transfers energy radiatively in the LWIR band. It absorbs photons and re-emits them.

PeterB in Indianapolis

Google is your friend. That quote is attributed to Einstein at Brainyquote, GoodReads, Quotationspage, Quotes4all, and many other websites. All of them attribute it as a real Einstein quote.
So, you therefore have two choices:
1. Disbelieve all of the popular quotations attributions on the internet
2. Accept that Einstein actually said it.
Choice 1 is certainly a valid choice, but when every source I can find claims that Einstein did actually say it, I tend to believe the “preponderance of the evidence”.


I’m not at all surprised by this result. Anyone who teaches these topics knows how confused people are. And it really has little to do with the political issues. People just don’t pay attention to such details.
When college students come into my astronomy class, I give them a test of various astronomy topics, including a question about global warming. Typically, only about 1/3 of students correctly identify CO2 as a possible cause of global warming. 2/3 believe it has something to do with ozone. This is the most common misconception by far. It’s fairly obvious that students have heard about the ozone hole problem and conflate it with other atmospheric “problems,” like global warming.
At the end of the semester, the percentages have flipped, but nearly 1/3 still cling to the ozone-driver-of-global-warming idea. Some ideas just die hard.


Entertaining. Fairly basic questions. Highlights the need for better education, allowing people to be more than sheeple.
And, although climate changes, I can’t see that the authors of the survey have followed recent posts very carefully.

Eustace Cranch,
Get up on the wrong side of the bed did we? How does one prove whether a quote is accurate or not, seeing as how nobody followed Einstein around with a tape recorder 24-7-365.25?
Take a pill, buddy…

i got 100% but the one question had no correct answer….the SUN makes the earth warmer NOT ANY greenhouse gas………..insulators only SLOW heat movement, without any atmosphere the earth would get VERY hot during daylight then very cold every night……..the slowing of the heat coming in and going out is why we are warmer in a comfortable range rather than being too hot in day and too cold at night……..there are MANY folks with advanced degrees today that could NOT pass an 8th grade science test from the 50’s!

lemiere jacques

may be you get 100% but
do you know what is the size of an electron or an atom?
do you know exactly what a continent is?
well i should say a blood cell carries oxygen, but i would not say anything of the kind what are blood cells for..and i don’t remember about other questions…
quite disturbng to me the way questions are written..
it is not about science it is about common knowledge.


PeterB in Indianapolis says:
October 8, 2013 at 9:07 am
And Einstein was right to have his doubts about the universe, as it has in fact been found not infinite.
Michael Moon’s translation of the German was closer to the original:
Zwei Dinge sind unendlich: das Universum und die menschliche Dummheit, aber bei dem Universum bin ich mir noch nicht ganz sicher.
Eustace Cranch says:
October 8, 2013 at 9:25 am
From Wikiquote:
Two things are infinite: the universe and the human stupidity.
As discussed in this entry from The Quote Investigator, the earliest published attribution of a similar quote to Einstein seems to have been in Gestalt therapist Frederick S. Perls’ 1969 book Gestalt Theory Verbatim, where he wrote on p. 33: “As Albert Einstein once said to me: ‘Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity.’ But what is much more widespread than the actual stupidity is the playing stupid, turning off your ear, not listening, not seeing.” Perls also offered another variant in his 1972 book In and Out the Garbage Pail, where he mentioned a meeting with Einstein and on p. 52 quoted him saying: “Two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I am not yet completely sure about the universe.” However, Perls had given yet another variant of this quote in an earlier book, Ego, Hunger, and Aggression: a Revision of Freud’s Theory and Method (originally published 1942, although the Quote Investigator only checked that the quote appeared in the 1947 edition), where he attributed it not to Einstein but to a “great astronomer”, writing: “As modern times promote hasty eating to a large extent, it is not surprising to learn that a great astronomer said: ‘Two things are infinite, as far as we know – the universe and human stupidity.’ To-day we know that this statement is not quite correct. Einstein has proved that the universe is limited.” So, the later attributions in 1969 and 1972 may have been a case of faulty memory, or of intentionally trying to increase the authority of the quote by attributing it to Einstein. The quote itself may be a variant of a similar quote attributed even earlier to the philosopher Ernest Renan, found for example in The Public: Volume 18 from 1915, which says on p. 1126: “He quotes the saying of Renan: it isn’t the stars that give him an idea of infinity; it is man’s stupidity.” (other examples of similar attributions to Renan can be found on this google books search.) Renan was French so this is presumably intended as a translation, but different sources give different versions of the supposed original French quote, such as “La bêtise humaine est la seule chose qui donne une idée de l’infini” (found for example in Réflexions sur la vie, 1895-1898 by Remy de Gourmont from 1903, p. 103, along with several other early sources as seen in this search) and “Ce n’est pas l’immensité de la voûte étoilée qui peut donner le plus complétement l’idée de l’infini, mais bien la bêtise humaine!” (found in Broad views, Volume 2 from 1904, p. 465). Since these variants have not been found in Renan’s own writings, they may represent false attributions as well. They may also be variants of an even older saying; for example, the 1880 book Des vers by Guy de Maupassant includes on p. 9 a quote from a letter by Gustave Flaubert where Flaubert writes “Cependant, qui sait? La terre a des limites, mais la bêtise humaine est infinie!” which translates to “But who knows? The earth has its boundaries, but human stupidity is infinite!” Similarly the 1887 book Melanges by Jules-Paul Tardivel includes on p. 273 a piece said to have been written in 1880 in which he writes “Aujourd’hui je sais qu’il n’y a pas de limites à la bêtise humaine, qu’elle est infinie” which translates to “today I know that there is no limit to human stupidity, it is infinite.”
Variant: “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.” Earliest version located is in Technocracy digest: Issues 287-314 from 1988, p. 76.


I am shocked at the result… 100% myself. Honestly I could see getting one or two of the questions wrong if you did not ‘get’ the question and then kicking yourself. But still these are all basic factoids that anyone who has an 8th grade education should know…