New Pew Research Center surveys of citizens and a representative sample of scientists connected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) show powerful crosscurrents that both recognize the achievements of scientists and expose stark fissures between scientists and citizens on a range of science, engineering and technology issues.
Citizens’ and scientists’ views diverge sharply across a range of science, engineering and technology topics. Opinion differences occur on all 13 issues where a direct comparison is available. A difference of less than 10 percentage points occurs on only two of the 13.
The largest differences between the public and the AAAS scientists are found in beliefs about the safety of eating genetically modified (GM) foods. 88% of scientists say it is generally safe to eat GM foods compared with 37% of the general public, a difference of 51 percentage points. When it comes to GM crops, two-thirds of the public (67%) say scientists do not have a clear understanding about the health effects.
Science holds an esteemed place among citizens and professionals, says the report. Americans recognize the accomplishments of scientists in key fields and, despite considerable dispute about the role of government in other realms, there is broad public support for government investment in scientific research.
Despite broadly similar views about the overall place of science in America, citizens and scientists often see science-related issues through different sets of eyes. There are large differences in their views across a host of issues.
Compared with five years ago, both citizens and scientists are less upbeat about the scientific enterprise. Citizens are still broadly positive about the place of U.S. scientific achievements and its impact on society, but slightly more are negative than five years ago. And, while a majority of scientists think it is a good time for science, they are less upbeat than they were five years ago. Most scientists believe that policy regulations on land use and clean air and water are not often guided by the best science.
These are some of the findings from a new pair of surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center in collaboration with the AAAS. The margin of sampling error for results based on all adults is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
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