Toleration of Interracial Dating Now More Prevalent than Heliocentrism

by Kieran Healy on June 6, 2007

I read the other day that a recent Gallup poll found that about 83 percent of Americans felt interracial dating was OK, and I believe this was a new high-water mark for this view. There was a degree of understandable concern about the remaining 17 percent, but (some people said) it’s only been forty years since Loving vs Virginia. And, as it turns out, it could be worse. The idea that the Earth orbits the Sun has had rather longer to catch on, but my colleague Omar Lizardo over at OrgTheory brings us new data from this year’s General Social Survey on the popularity of that idea. It turns out that almost three quarters of Americans now subscribe to the Galilean view. Click through to Omar’s post for data on the percentage of Heliocentric-Positive Americans who think the Earth takes a year to orbit the sun, as opposed to a day, a month, or some other time period.

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Eunomia · Ptolemy Lives!
06.06.07 at 9:10 pm
Unlikely Words » Interracial Dating? Yes! Heliocentrism? No!
06.07.07 at 12:19 am
The Enlightenment Marches On | Cosmic Variance
06.07.07 at 6:23 am
The Invisible Library » Blog Archive » If You Need Me, I’ll Be Under the Bed, In the Fetal Position, Crying For Mommy
06.09.07 at 2:03 am



abb1 06.06.07 at 8:33 pm

Glory, glory Hallelujah, I shall not be moved
Glory Hallelujah, I shall not be moved
I’m like a tree that’s planted by the water
And I shall not be moved.


James Wetterau 06.06.07 at 8:43 pm

Because I feel certain of the astronomers’ correctness, I know that the Earth takes about 20 minutes longer than what people commonly mean by a “year” to orbit the sun. The period of the Earth’s orbit is one sidereal year, which is not the year used in normal calendars, which typically starts and ends at midnight. Nor is it even the average length of a year, accounting for leap years. That period is based on the “tropical year”.

Obviously a generic year is the closest answer.


James Wetterau 06.06.07 at 8:49 pm

Minor clarification of / correction to my own remark: the Earth’s orbital period is a sidereal year, which is about 20 minutes longer than the mean tropical year, which is roughly (but not quite) the 365.2425 day year that you get from averaging the year used in our calendar system, with its leap year rules. Neither of these are the 365 or 366 day “year” that starts and ends at midnight. But they are much closer to that than to the other answers.


Alan K. Henderson 06.06.07 at 8:51 pm

I am reminded of a TV interview someone once told me about, one concerning comet Shoemaker-Levy’s impending collision with Jupiter. The reporter asked the scientist, “Should we take precautions?”


Rich B. 06.06.07 at 9:07 pm

Sure, a high percentage believe it in GENERAL. But their views probably change the closer it gets to home.

I mean, just speaking for myself, I can accept the idea that, as a general rule, planets orbit the sun. But the Earth? The very ashes and dust from which I emerged and which I shall return? That’s another story all together.


LizardBreath 06.06.07 at 9:31 pm

There’s probably some marketing reason that it would be immensely profitable to isolate the population of people who support interracial dating but draw the line at heliocentrism.


Andrew R. 06.06.07 at 10:03 pm

I wonder how many of the respondents who gave the geocentric answer were taking the piss. I suspect that it is a non-trivial number.


fardels bear 06.06.07 at 10:03 pm

Whereas at least one blogger apparently thinks that heliocentrism was Galileo’s theory rather than Copernicus’s.


Quo Vadis 06.06.07 at 10:11 pm

I think this is a problem with education not religion, because it’s not just Americans who are having trouble with the solar system:

Probably not a representative example, but when asked which body revolved around the earth, the contestant and 56% of the audience said the sun while only 42% said the moon.

Of course, if you want to get relativistic about it, any point in the universe is equally valid as a center point, so the sun can be said to revolve around the earth without violating any physical laws.


Katherine 06.07.07 at 3:59 am

where’s Dick Cheney’s approval rating these days?


Don SinFalta 06.07.07 at 4:43 am

Let’s see, 26% don’t know that the Earth orbits the sun. And of those who get this one right, 29% don’t know that it takes a year for the Earth to accomplish this feat. Kinda puts a new light on the size of Bush’s approval rating, doesn’t it? I guess I should quit being surprised at cluelessness of this magnitude, it seems to be a salient feature of contemporary America.


bad Jim 06.07.07 at 8:11 am

On a somewhat heterogonal note, it’s my impression that many people think that the moon keeps the same face turned toward the sun, so that one side is always light and the other dark.


MR. Bill 06.07.07 at 10:58 am

bad jim, I’ve had heck’ own time explaining to my boyfriend (who’s an engineer, for gawdsake) why you generally see more meteors in the midnight to dawn hours (due to the way the earth rotates in it’s orbit..), resorting to making a sort of orrey with the sugarbowl and a salt shaker…


ajay 06.07.07 at 11:35 am

7: “I like black folks fine, but I wouldn’t want my daughter to orbit one”.

13: I blame Pink Floyd.


MFA 06.07.07 at 2:28 pm

For a larf, look up what you can about Dr. Gerardus D. Bouw, and visit


And one suspects, given the biblical rationalizations used to justify ‘anti-miscegenation’ arguments, that the 17% anti-interracial dating group and the 18% anti-heliocentrism group have a large and utterly ignorant overlap.



McGarnigle 06.07.07 at 4:13 pm

And one suspects, given the biblical rationalizations used to justify ‘anti-miscegenation’ arguments, that the 17% anti-interracial dating group and the 18% anti-heliocentrism group have a large and utterly ignorant overlap.

I’m not sure how true that is. I’d bet most of the Earth centrists are just ignorant, rather consciously favoring scripture over science. The two surveys are measruing two entirely different sets of beliefs.


Alan K. Henderson 06.07.07 at 7:31 pm

How did Bush-Cheney bashing get into this thread?


aretino 06.07.07 at 9:02 pm

In my school days, I was bludgeoned into thinking that both the earth and the sun revolve around the center of mass of the earth-sun system.


bi 06.07.07 at 9:35 pm

aretino: …which I guess is quite close to the centre of the sun anyway.


richard 06.07.07 at 11:32 pm

OK, now I’m confused. How would Jupiter, for instance, interact with the Earth-Sun system (I know the approximate answer is “by orbiting around a point inside the Sun:” that doesn’t give me a theoretical understanding)? Does everything that orbits the sun take as its centre of orbit the aggregate centre of mass of the whole system (which is presumably always changing)? I’m guessing (quite naively) that even this wouldn’t give us a really good model of how actual orbits behave.

Suddenly my comfortable assurance doesn’t seem so perfect after all (and I didn’t even have to get all relative). Mark me down for “refused to answer.”


ajay 06.08.07 at 9:11 am

Okay, everybody, richard has just discovered the three-body problem.

Answer: yes, everything in the solar system orbits around the common centre of mass of the solar system, which is pretty close to the centre of the sun, because the sun is much more massive than everything else put together. The common centre of mass isn’t always changing – unless you add in another planet from somewhere.

You can work out the Earth’s orbit pretty accurately by just considering the Earth and the Sun, because the rest of the system doesn’t have much of an effect. Similarly, you can work out Jupiter’s orbit while ignoring Earth, because Earth doesn’t affect matters much either – too small. However, if you look at an asteroid that orbits near Jupiter, you can’t ignore Jupiter – every time the King Planet swings past, it will disturb the asteroid.


Natalie Solent 06.08.07 at 11:40 am

A working link to the episode from the French edition of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire mentioned earlier by Quo Vadis, in which the contestant and 56% of the audience said the Sun went round the Earth while only 42% said the Moon, can be found here.

I taught physics once. The cleverer kids could contribute to a discussion of the sort above, such as points about common centres of mass, or how any reference point could be considered as static. For others it was a triumph just to get them to remember the basics. I think a lot of people have trouble with the rock bottom concept of “A revolves round B” when both A and B are in space. They lose their bearings when they try to picture it. The problem may be as much visuo-spatial as anything.

Certainly the distinction between, say, the Earth revolving round the Sun and the Earth revolving on its own axis had to be re-inforced with satsumas and lamps ad nauseam.

Kieran and several commenters here seem to have assumed, or pretended to assume, that the American result was the result of considered heliocentric views rather than ignorance – or just picking the wrong answer through inattention. I doubt it very much. I’ve scarcely ever heard before today of any US Christian fundamentalist who believed in heliocentricism, but I’ve heard of many a survey in the UK and the US that revealed distressing levels of public ignorance about science, history, current affairs, and geography.

Incidentally, on the cross-racial dating question, does anyone know what proportion of those disapproving were non white? My guess would be that a higher proportion of non-whites than whites would disapprove, and a higher proportion still would be willing to admit they disapproved.


ajay 06.08.07 at 2:58 pm

My guess would be that a higher proportion of non-whites than whites would disapprove

I have no idea – none – why you should think that. The cliche “would you want your daughter to marry one?” is not aimed at black fathers worried that their girls will come home with some white boy.


Slocum 06.08.07 at 5:36 pm

“My guess would be that a higher proportion of non-whites than whites would disapprove”

I have no idea – none – why you should think that.

Because minorities are typically more worried about marrying outside the group? Because of popular press accounts of black women worrying about a shortage of marriageable black men being ‘taken’ by white women? Or maybe because of data:

“Over the years there have been studies and investigations conducted to discover the public opinion on this controversial topic and reasons why people decide for or against interracial dating.”

“Many of these studies have found that Black women are the least accepting of inter-racial dating than any other racial group”

“White men were the most accepting group. In this study conducted with California college students, White men were more positive in attitudes about interracial dating (Fiebert, 2000). This same study reported that 81 % of White men were willing to date outside of their race (Fiebert, 2000). However, none of these studies seemed to have stated why White men are the most accepting.”

White men are the most tolerant of interracial relationships and black women the least? Well now that can’t possibly be right, can it?


Crystal 06.08.07 at 7:09 pm

#8: I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those heliocentric “believers” were, indeed, having a little fun at the expense of the pollster.

#27: If it’s true that white men are the most tolerant of interracial dating, I surmise it’s because they have the least to lose. White men don’t suffer the opprobrium that white women or non-whites still sometimes do when they date/marry outside their race; they can afford to be tolerant.


Natalie Solent 06.08.07 at 8:45 pm

I’ve just noticed that both I and Crystal have inadvertently provided evidence for the “inattention” explanation. Both of us have used “heliocentric” when we meant “geocentric”, probably unconsciously echoing the title of the post.


The thing that brought the thought to my mind was this recent thread from the Volokh Conspiracy, although that was about preferences for or against inter-racial dating rather than approval or disapproval of it. Other than that, just things I’ve been told and read. I realise that that is not very scientific but that’s why I referred to it as my guess. Although you say that the cliche “would you want your daughter to marry one” is not aimed at black fathers, it’s not that unusual to hear of exactly that situation – from brothers, too.

Also racial prejudice between different ethnic minorites might be a factor.

I did not intend to derail this thread. If my guess is correct, no doubt there are multiple reasons, such as the fear of a minority group losing its identity if too many members marry out. Certainly, I might be wrong in this opinion but I’m surprised that you are so surprised at the idea.


lemuel pitkin 06.08.07 at 9:33 pm

My guess would be that a higher proportion of non-whites than whites would disapprove, and a higher proportion still would be willing to admit they disapproved.

But you would be wrong. From the same survey:

“In 1987-88, fewer than half of whites (44%) said that interracial dating was acceptable; that number has nearly doubled (to 81%) in the current survey. Two decades ago, about three-quarters of blacks (74%) felt interracial dating was acceptable. Today, nearly all African Americans (97%) believe that interracial dating is acceptable.”


abb1 06.08.07 at 9:59 pm

What’s “interracial dating”? If they really want to know the attitudes, they should avoid euphemisms and ask direct and precise questions.


Squander Two 06.10.07 at 1:01 am

There’s a lot of information out there, and we can’t all know everything. In my experience, in any situation in which A knows something that B doesn’t, B knows something else that A doesn’t.

It’s all very well feeling superior for knowing stuff about physics that some Americans don’t, but are you confident that you know more than all of them on every other subject as well? If not, your feeling of superiority isn’t going to last long when you find out that they’re far better than you at quoting Shakespeare, or can play the stock market more effectively, or know more about the history of architecture.


Natalie Solent 06.10.07 at 10:25 pm

Before this thread slips off the bottom of the blog…

Lemuel Pitkin, your link does not work. But googling I found a Pew survey that said much the same, or exactly the same if that was the link you had. I stand corrected. And surprised – because I have read quite a few complaints, particularly by black and ethnic minority women, that their choice to date men of another race had been regarded unfavourably by relatives. Maybe I got particularly interested in that type of story.

I have been wondering how this ties in with the survey Slocum quoted. I think the difference might hinge on the meaning of “approve” and the difference between approving of inter-racial dating and feeling inter-racial attraction oneself.

I note the Pew survey referred only to blacks and whites. Too tired to think what effect this might have.

There are also questions of compatibility between couples of different religion, class and culture which partly overlap with race and partly don’t. Was that what you were referring to, Abb1?

I dunno, Squander Two. One of the most depressing* observations I made when teaching was that when it came to knowledge, “to those that hath much, more shall be given.”

*Do I mean that?


abb1 06.11.07 at 7:31 am

Well, IMO both words ‘interracial’ and ‘dating’ are not specific enough. Different people have different idea of what ‘race’ is and ‘dating’ could mean ‘going to see a movie together’, or ‘to have a short affair’ or something.


ajay 06.11.07 at 9:42 am

The thing about surveys of college students is that they are quite young, and so they will naturally hear the question “do you approve of interracial dating” as “would you, yourself, date a hot member of another race?” That’s quite a different question from the “would you want your daughter to marry one” way that most older people might hear it.

And, if the last few years have done nothing else, they should probably have taught us to be wary of “popular press accounts” of, well, anything.


abb1 06.11.07 at 10:13 am

Exactly, what Ajay said about ‘dating’. And the concept of ‘race’ is unclear too.

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