An excellent report out last week by the fine people at Pew that examines the relationships among the public, the press, and the media.
Eighty-five percent of scientists surveyed say a lack of scientific knowledge on part of the public is a "major problem." Now, to be fair, if we surveyed any group -- military, clergy, small business owners, left-handed golfers -- you'd get the same response; everyone thinks the public's lack of knowledge about their specific area is a "major problem." But for science the stakes are a bit higher than most, or at least any scientist will tell you the stakes are higher. There's an interesting table deep in the study about the vast differences between scientists and the public on attitudes about evolution and climate change (expected) and stem cell research, nuke plants, and vaccination (less expected).
And finally, it wouldn't be a what people know post unless we get into knowledge.
Scroll to the bottom and you'll find a table that examines the public's science knowledge. Prepare to be underwhelmed? Only a little. On some stuff the public does quite well, such as aspirin helping with heart attacks or the cause of tsunamis. No doubt these are the product of extensive advertising and news coverage. Get a little more obscure, especially into "textbook" questions, and things kinda fall apart. I've hotlinked to the table for ease of reading and presented it below for your viewing enjoyment, but I strongly encourage people to read the whole report if they're a little bit interested in the public and science. The final question is kinda funny since in an earlier post I blew the electron/atom thing.
Source: Pew Center for the People and the Press and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Full report here.