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Americans And Scientists Differ On Key Issues

July 10, 2009

According to a recent poll, the share of Americans who consider achievements in science to be among the nation’s greatest accomplishments is on the decline.

The Pew Research Center poll found that 27 percent of Americans believe the nation’s greatest accomplishments are in science.

That number is down from 47 percent a decade ago.

Even though technology has had a greater role in everyday life through the increased accessibility of mobile phones, personal computers, and the Internet, “Big Science” items like moon landings, and organ transplants have become routine.

The number of Americans who believe equal rights is the nation’s top achievement grew from 5 percent to 17 percent over the last decade.

The majority of Americans, 64 percent, believe the nation’s science is “above average,” but only 17 percent say America is the best in the world.

According to Alan I. Leshner, head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, there is a danger that the U.S. could lose its supremacy in science, although efforts are being made to spike interest in the nation’s youth.

Only 6 percent of those polled said they think negatively about science, while 84 percent said science had a positive effect on society.

Although this question did not appear on previous polls, Scott Keeter, director of the survey, said the other studies support positive views of science and medicine.

“The U.S. public recognizes research and development, perhaps especially to drive medical advances, as an investment in the future. Yet, researchers and the public too often are separated by a communications gap,” Leshner told the AP.

Leshner and his group are currently conducting seminars to teach scientists how to better communicate with the public.

Even those who might be more prone to have a negative outlook on science were surprisingly supportive.

In the poll, 63 percent of those believing in creationism, and 64 percent of those who do not believe in global warming said science contributes to the well-being of society.

Three polls were gathered for the Pew study. 

The first was a telephone survey from April 28 through May 12 that questioned 2,001 members of the public. 

A second survey tested the public’s scientific knowledge, questioning 1,005 people from June 18 through June 21.

The third survey was a random online sample of 2,533 members of the AAAS, an international organization of scientists and people with scientific interest.  This survey took place from May 1 to June 14.

Pew found many interesting comparisons between the general public and scientists.

According to the study, 58 percent of the general public favors government funding for stem cell research, while 93 percent of scientists favor federal backing.  The majority of Americans, 69 percent, believe parents should vaccinate their children, compared to 82 percent of the scientific community.

The AAAS members did not see eye to eye with the public on other matters also, including evolution.  Research found that only 32 percent of the public believes humans and other living creatures evolved naturally, compared with 87 percent of scientists.

Global warming was also a differing issue with 84 percent of scientists saying the Earth is getting warmer because of human activity, while only 32 percent of the public agreed.

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