WASHINGTON (AP) â€” For the first time, a majority of Americans have access to at least one computer at home and almost as many can reach the Internet, a National Science Foundation survey finds.
An NSF report, called Science and Engineering Indicators 2000, said that a 1999 survey of Americans found that 54 percent had access to a computer at home, an 11 percent increase from a 1997 survey.
``The percentage has been rising steadily since 1983, when only 8 percent'' had computer access at home, the report said.
Home computers with modems, for Internet connection, rose to 46 percent in the survey, in contrast to 21 percent in a 1995 survey, the report said.
The average hours spent each year on the home computer dropped slightly, the survey found. In 1997, the survey found that the average home computer user spent 302 hours on the machines, while the average was 283 hours in the 1999 survey.
For internet users, however, the survey found that the average number of hours spent online annually has increased from 80 in 1995, to 161 in 1997, to 296 in 1999.
Still, the the report said there was little improvement in the general public understanding of specific scientific facts.
Only one-half or fewer of those surveyed knew that:
â€” Early humans did not live at the time of the dinosaurs.
â€” It takes a year for the Earth to orbit the sun.
â€” Antibiotics do not kill viruses.
More than 70 percent of those surveyed, however, did understood that:
â€” Oxygen comes from plants.
â€” Continents have been moving for millions of years and will continue to do so.
â€” Light travels faster than sound.
â€” All radioactivity is not man-made.
When the respondents were asked to define common scientific terms, however, most failed, although the scores have improved during recent years.
About 13 percent of those surveyed could define a molecule, up slightly from 11 percent in 1997 and 9 percent in 1995. (A molecule is the smallest particle of an element or chemical compound that can exist in the free state and retain characteristics of the element or compound.)
About 29 percent could define DNA, up from 22 percent in 1997 and 21 percent in 1995. (DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is a material in the chromosomes that contains the genetic code.)
Those able to define the Internet increased to 16 percent in 1999, from 13 percent in 1997. (The Internet is a global network that connects computer systems and permits the electronic exchange of information.)
In questions about beliefs in the paranormal, the survey found that about a third of Americans believe in astrology, with 7 percent saying that astrology is ``very scientific'' and 29 percent saying it is ``sort of scientific.''
``Between one-third and one-half of Americans believe in unidentified flying objects (UFOs),'' the report said. ``A somewhat smaller percentage believes that aliens have landed on the Earth.''
The survey is based on a random-digit sampling of 1,882 American adults. The response rate to the 1999 survey was 66 percent. The report did not state the margin of error.