I don't think I've ever seen writing with a greater factoid density than these two paragraphs from the start of George Scialabba's essay "How Bad Is It?", The New Inquiry 5/26/2012:
Pretty bad. Here is a sample of factlets from surveys and studies conducted in the past twenty years. Seventy percent of Americans believe in the existence of angels. Fifty percent believe that the earth has been visited by UFOs; in another poll, 70 percent believed that the U.S. government is covering up the presence of space aliens on earth. Forty percent did not know whom the U.S. fought in World War II. Forty percent could not locate Japan on a world map. Fifteen percent could not locate the United States on a world map. Sixty percent of Americans have not read a book since leaving school. Only 6 percent now read even one book a year. According to a very familiar statistic that nonetheless cannot be repeated too often, the average American’s day includes six minutes playing sports, five minutes reading books, one minute making music, 30 seconds attending a play or concert, 25 seconds making or viewing art, and four hours watching television.
Among high-school seniors surveyed in the late 1990s, 50 percent had not heard of the Cold War. Sixty percent could not say how the United States came into existence. Fifty percent did not know in which century the Civil War occurred. Sixty percent could name each of the Three Stooges but not the three branches of the U.S. government. Sixty percent could not comprehend an editorial in a national or local newspaper.
As is usual in such recitals, there are no references. And also as usual, it's natural to wonder whether any of the "factlets" are true.
At least, it ought to be natural. The problem is that when someone is channeling a Deep Meme (here O tempora O mores), supporting factlets become Too Good To Check. Confirmation Bias rules.
I'm not going to try to fact-check Mr. Scialabba this morning, but when I've looked for the facts behind factlets of this kind, the claims have usually turned out to be somewhere between misleading and totally bogus. For a few examples, see "Counting Freedoms, Simpsons, and Percentages", 3/1/2006; "Freedom of Speech: More Famous than Bart Simpson", 3/3/2006; "Sex-linked Lexical Budgets", 8/6/2006; "Don't know much about history psychometrics", 6/22/2011.
Update — Since there has been some discussion in the comments about the interpretation of television-watching time, I thought I'd take a look at the numbers.
Scialabba's factoid: "According to a very familiar statistic that nonetheless cannot be repeated too often, the average American’s day includes six minutes playing sports, five minutes reading books, one minute making music, 30 seconds attending a play or concert, 25 seconds making or viewing art, and four hours watching television."
Fact: The 2010 American Time Use Survey, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, reports that the average amount of time spent watching television — "for persons who engaged in the activity" — was 2.73 hours/day. The percentage of the sample who did any TV watching during the period of the survey was 79.4%, meaning that 20.6% of the group watched no TV at all during the sampled period. This means that the overall average was .794*2.73 = 2.17 hours, or two hours ten minutes. This is a bit more than half of the "four hours" cited in Scialabba's factoid.
(The numbers for TV-watching time over the past decade's surveys have not changed very much.)
Update #2 — Prompted by a comment, I should add the following…
Scialabba's factoid: "Sixty percent of Americans have not read a book since leaving school. Only 6 percent now read even one book a year."
Fact: According to a 2012 study by the Pew Research Center, "Some 78% of those ages 16 and older say they read a book in the past 12 months. Those readers report they have read an average (or mean number) of 17 books in the past year and 8 books as a median (midpoint) number. Those who read e-books report they have read more books in all formats. They reported an average of 24 books in the previous 12 months and had a median of 13 books. Those who do not read e-books say they averaged 15 books in the previous year and the median was 6 books." [Based on a survey of 2,986 Americans ages 16 and older, conducted on November 16-December 21, 2011]
As these two random checks illustrate, we can update Mencken: "No one ever went broke overestimating the willingness of the American public to believe made-up statistics, especially about how stupid their fellow Americans allegedly are".