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The Public Versus Scientists

Survey: Both agree research is important but differ on key issues

by Andrea Widener
February 2, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 5

Graph comparing the views of scientists versus the public.
NOTE: Surveys conducted in 2014. AAAS = American Association for the Advancement of Science. MMR = measles, mumps, and rubella. SOURCE: Pew Research Center

Major disagreements separate the public and scientists on many key scientific issues, according to a pair of surveys by the Pew Research Center and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

For example, 88% of scientists think eating genetically modified food is safe, compared with 37% of the general public, according to a report on the 2014 surveys. The surveys posed questions to 2,002 U.S. adults and 3,748 U.S. scientist-members of AAAS.

A 2009 survey by Pew and AAAS showed some differences between the public and scientists, but these findings were more extensive. With the current surveys, “there is no single factor” that explains the difference between the views of scientists and the public, says Pew’s Cary Funk, lead author of the report.

AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner says conflicting narratives underlie the divide. For instance, religious views may conflict with a belief in evolution. Politics, meanwhile, has taken over the climate change discussion. “Science is being trumped by these other factors, and scientists need to do something to turn this around,” Leshner says.

But the surveys revealed that both the public and scientists agree the U.S. science education system is failing. In addition, scientists’ opinions about the state of science have dimmed since 2009. The percent who say it is a good time for science is down 24% to just 52% of scientists surveyed.


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