Friday, July 10, 2009

A Gap in Appreciation, or Understanding ?

From this morning's "First Bell" email, a daily news round-up of science and engineering sent out by ASEE:

Survey Shows Gaps Between American Public, Scientific Community.

The AP (7/10, Schmid) reports, "The share of Americans who see science as the nation's greatest achievement is down sharply, even as the public continues to hold scientists in high regard," according to a recent Pew Research Center poll, which "indicates that 27 percent of Americans say the nation's greatest achievements are in science, medicine and technology, more than any category other than don't know." However, that figure is "down from 47 percent in a similar study a decade ago." Still, the poll found that, " remains well thought of by Americans, with 84 percent of respondents saying it has a mostly positive effect on society," even in cases "when they disagreed with some findings."

The New York Times (7/10, A16, Dean) reports, "On the whole, scientists believe American research leads the world. But only 17 percent of the public agrees." Additionally, "while almost all of the scientists surveyed accept that human beings evolved by natural processes and that human activity, chiefly the burning of fossil fuels, is causing global warming, general public is far less sure." Specifically, "almost a third of ordinary Americans say human beings have existed in their current form since the beginning of time, a view held by only 2 percent of the scientists." Regarding climate change, "about half of the public agrees that people are behind climate change, and 11 percent does not believe there is any warming at all." A large proportion of "science association members surveyed said public ignorance of science was a major problem," and classified "coverage of science by newspapers and television" as "fair" or "poor."

USA Today (7/10, Vergano) reported that, regarding animal research, "52% of the public and 93% of scientists support drug testing or other experiments on animals." And, "51% of the public and 70% of scientists support nuclear power development." Science author Chris Mooney said the results were not "hugely surprising," but were "hugely important in telling people in science that maybe they need to reach out to the public better." Alan Leshner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) made similar comments, saying, "The results tell us we have a lot of work to do, not only on getting the word out about scientific findings, but about how science works."

The Christian Science Monitor (7/10, Spotts) reports, "Organizations like the AAAS are trying to encourage scientists to do a better job of communicating what they do to the general public," and frequently "focus on what the public and educators need to do to boost scientific literacy." However, Mooney argues that "people form their political positions based on a variety of factors, and scientists don't know how or don't try to reach out to them." He advocates greater "personal contact," which "may not change an individual's worldview...but it does have the potential to demystify scientists and the way they approach their world."

In the (7/9) Cosmic Log, Alan Boyle wrote that the poll's results "show that the situation is more complex" than a divide between two groups. For example, "the Pew study points out that most Americans really like science and think it's deserving of support."

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