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Policy

Improved literacy unlikely to improve support for science

by Andrea Widener
August 21, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 33

Scientists are often baffled by the public’s attitude toward important issues such as climate change or genetically modified foods. Many think that better science knowledge would convince people to support more scientifically based opinions. But improving science literacy is unlikely to change the public’s attitudes on these and other important scientific issues, according to a new National Academy of Sciences report. That’s because the public’s attitudes are based on their values and beliefs rather than just their science knowledge. In the U.S., the public’s knowledge of and support for science is comparable to that in other developed countries—but this hasn’t affected people’s views on controversial topics. Instead of focusing on science literacy, advocates who want to change public attitudes toward science issues need to focus on explaining the process of science, the report suggests. This includes common scientific practices such as testing hypotheses or peer review. The report presents a research agenda that could help clarify the link between science literacy and attitudes of both the public and decision-makers.

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