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THE WINNERS AND THE LOSERS

* WINNERS: Americans and the charities to which they donate money. A new report this week shows that giving to U.S. charities rose more than 10 percent last year to a total of $144 billion. Maybe the fund-raisers are doing a more effective job. But they had better get even more adept at it since much of the 1995 increase was due to one-time factors such as the stock market rally, higher wages and talk of ending tax breaks.

* WINNERS: Religious groups. They got the biggest share of the donations to charity - about 44 percent. But these groups, too, need to get better at fund-raising since that 44 percent was slightly lower than usual.* WINNERS: Youngsters who study music and art. New research shows such students do better in mathematics than their peers who don't. The music and art training may help children realize they can learn challenging skills.

* WINNER: Japan. For the fifth year in a row, Japan owns more overseas assets than any other nation.

LOSERS: The Japanese people. Despite their country's affluence, its citizens remain hard-pressed by high prices and are worried about tough economic times. The lesson: There's a difference between national wealth and the individual's standard of living.

LOSERS: Americans - because they are virtually illiterate when it comes to science. The National Science Foundation recently administered a quiz to a sampling of adults. Fifty-three out of 100 were unclear on the concept that the Earth circles the sun once a year. Fewer than half knew that humans and dinosaurs never lived at the same time or that electrons are subatomic particles. In fact, the test was flunked by 73 percent of those who took it.

Despite this fundamental lack of understanding, the survey found that 72 percent of the public believes science research is worthwhile. A triumph of hope over knowledge?

LOSERS: American teenagers - because the number of smokers among their ranks is steadily increasing, especially among black males. A new survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found nearly 35 percent of students in grades nine through 12 said they smoked last year. That figure is up from just over 30 percent in 1993 and 27.5 percent in 1991. Almost 28 percent of black male high school students - nearly twice as many as in 1991 - reported smoking. These findings raise doubts about how fully retailers are committed to observing bans on selling cigarettes to minors.

* WINNERS: American adults. Only 25 percent of them are smokers now - and the figure has been dropping since the 1970s.