Scientists Or Citizens; Who's Right?

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.

  • 79% of adults say that science has made life easier for most people and a majority is positive about science’s impact on the quality of health care, food and the environment.
  • 54% of adults consider U.S. scientific achievements to be either the best in the world (15%) or above average (39%) compared with other industrial countries.
  • 92% of AAAS scientists say scientific achievements in the U.S. are the best in the world (45%) or above average (47%).

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.

  • While a majority of the public sees U.S. scientific achievements in positive terms, the share saying U.S. scientific achievements are the best in the world or above average is down 11 points to 54% today, compared with 65% in 2009
  • 79% of citizens say that science has made life easier for most people, while just 15% say it has made life more difficult. However, the balance of opinion is slightly less positive today than in 2009 when positive views outpaced negative ones by a margin of 83% to 10%
  • 52% of AAAS scientists say this is generally a good time for science, down 24 percentage points from 76% in 2009. Similarly, the share of scientists who say this is generally a good time for their scientific specialty is down from 73% in 2009 to 62% today. And, the share of AAAS scientists saying that this is a good or very good time to begin a career in their field now stands at 59%, down from 67% in 2009
  • Only 15% of scientists say they believe policy choices about land use are guided by the best science most of the time or always; 27% think the best science frequently guides regulations about clean air and water; 46% think the best science is frequently used in food safety regulations and 58% say the same when it comes to regulations about new drug and medical treatments

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.

For additional information from Pew Research, please visit here.



1 comment about "Scientists Or Citizens; Who's Right?".
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  1. Rick Monihan from None, February 16, 2015 at 6:52 a.m.

    I studied Physics in college, though I did not graduate with a degree in it, changing my major to Political Science after a few years.
    I have a deep respect and a far better understanding of science than the average person.
    However, I also understand that science is not perfect, particularly when it comes to areas where there is limited information or a multiplicity of variables.
    My father, a surgeon, used to say the biggest problem with the public's understanding of medicine was the belief that medicine is a perfect science when it is also an art, and an art that requires that patients play their role by taking care of themselves first.
    To that end, I believe the biggest issue is the politicization of science. While I believe in evolution, eating GM food, and getting vaccines, that does not mean I am 100% certain my decisions are the absolute best, just that the odds are likely in my favor to be in my best interest. But that does not hold for all 'science'. To add a bit to my point, I'll add Michael Crichton's view.

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