Comment »Posted on Saturday 11 July 2009 at 4:26 pm by Jacob Aron
In Science Policy

A study on public attitudes to science has found that the majority of Americans think that science has a mostly positive effect on society, and scientist’s contribution to society is second only to that of the military and teachers.

The survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, also asked about the nation’s greatest achievement those surveyed were less enthusiastic. Only 27% respondents chose developments in science, medicine and technology, down from 27% in 1999. Instead, the most popular answer with 33% was “nothing/don’t know”.

Perhaps it is unsurprising then that 49% of scientists think the public have unrealistic expectations for the speed of scientific progress, and a massive 85% view the public’s lack of scientific knowledge as a major problem.

Many scientists blame the media for doing a poor job informing the public about science, with 76% saying the media doesn’t properly distinguish between well-founded findings and those that are not. Scientists were split on the media simplification of science; roughly half believe it be a major problem but the rest view it as minor or not a problem at all. Scientists also complained about the lack of funding for basic research, with 87% viewing it as serious or very serious.

It’s not all moaning however. Just over half of both the public and scientists named advances in medicine as the most important achievement in science during the last 20 years. The two groups also agreed on the importance of government funding science; 60% of the public believe that it is essential for progress, and 84% of scientists list a government body as a funding source.

I’d be interested to see a similar survey in the UK. As far as I know (and I admit to not looking very hard) the last big science and society report was the House of Lords one nearly a decade ago. Anyone know of an update?


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