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32 Percent of Russians Think the Sun Revolves Around Earth

Feb 11, 2011 – 2:50 PM
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Lee Speigel

Lee Speigel Contributor

Does the sun revolve around Earth? Is radioactivity a human invention? Did humans ever live side by side with dinosaurs? A surprising number of people in Russia answered those and other questions with a resounding "yes."

A survey published this week by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center targeted scientific superstitions among Russian citizens and was released as Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev, announced that Russia should develop its own space exploration agenda.

Yet, with their country about to take bolder moves for a future in space, 32 percent of Russians dismiss the idea that the sun is the center of our solar system -- a belief known as geocentrism.
Earth as the center of the solar system.
A geocentric model showing the Earth as the center of the solar system. A new survey in Russia shows that, among unusual scientific superstitions, 32 percent of Russians still believe the sun revolves around the Earth.

"It may just be that this is a widespread common popular view, because that's the way it looks. In terms of what you need to know to make it through life, it may well be irrelevant," said James Oberg, an NBC News space consultant.

A former 22-year career rocket scientist and one of the world's leading experts on American and Russian space exploration, Oberg feels that the survey answers depend on how they were asked, in addition to how people normally process information.

In one survey question, 55 percent of Russians noted that they believe radioactivity is a human invention.

"Well, we'd have to see what the original question was in Russian. That is the kind of question where you're actually talking about a subtle distinction," Oberg told AOL News.

"People don't deal in their lives with natural background radiation, and so the only radiation that they have ever read about all their lives are radiation from artificial sources: weapons, medicine and power plants," he said.

As for the question about humans living during the age of the dinosaurs, 29 percent of Russian citizens thought this "Flintstones" scenario was quite logical.
Space expert James Oberg
American and Russian space expert James Oberg thinks a new survey about scientific superstitions among Russian citizens may be more universally accepted outside of that country.

"Most people pick things up obliquely," Oberg theorizes. "They hear about something in the background while they're going from the kitchen to the bedroom. It's not like they sit down and study a topic -- they're just loaded with stories, and whatever stories are the most common or common in the mass media, they just pick them up.

"It's natural. People do that to fit in. I think it's a very standard human trait."

Oberg doesn't think the results of this survey -- 1,600 people polled in January -- represent the actual Russian education process of its population.

"No, clearly these numbers aren't all that different from figures in the U.S. and even Europe, because these are subjects which are divorced from their everyday realities, and they may get these impressions from watching TV programs.

"The biggest issue I see, if this survey turns out to be true, is that these kinds of surveys in the West are used to insult the intelligence of religious people, and in the Soviet Union, people got the relatively same impressions while being raised rigorously in an anti-religious atmosphere," Oberg said.

The Russian poll also suggested that women are more likely than men to believe scientific superstitions.

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