Scientists see the world differently than we do
The American public and U.S. scientists are far apart on science issues. And 98 percent of surveyed scientists say it's a problem. The public doesnt have the facts, the scientists believe.
Scientists are far less worried than the general public about some important issues. Issues like genetically modified food, pesticide use, and nuclear power. That is according to matching polls of both the general public and the country's largest general science organization.
Scientists were more certain that global warming is caused by man. They believe evolution is real. They also believe overpopulation is a danger. They think mandatory vaccination against childhood diseases is needed.
In eight of 13 science-oriented issues, there was a 20 percentage point or higher gap. It separates the opinions of the public and members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. That is according to survey work by the Pew Research Center.
The gaps didn't correlate to any liberal-conservative split. The scientists at times take more traditionally conservative views and at times more liberal ones.
"These are big and notable gaps," said Lee Rainie. He is director of Pew's internet, science and technology research. He said it's a strong indicator that the public and scientists see the world differently.
In the most dramatic split, 88 percent of the scientists surveyed said it is safe to eat genetically modified foods. Only 37 percent of the public agreed. Fifty-seven percent say it is unsafe. And 68 percent of scientists said it is safe to eat foods grown with pesticides. That's compared with only 28 percent of the general public.
Ninety-eight percent of scientists say humans evolved over time. That's compared with 65 percent of the public. The gap wasn't quite as large for vaccines. Eighty-six percent of the scientists favor mandatory childhood shots. Sixty-eight percent of the public did.
Eighty-seven percent of scientists said global warming is mostly due to human activity. But only half of the public did.
The trouble, according to scientists, is that the public doesnt know the facts. The survey shows that 84 percent of the scientists said this is a major problem. Many believe that the public does not know very much about science. Another 14 percent said it is a minor problem.
Pew polled 2,002 adults in August and did an online survey of 3,748 AAAS members in the fall. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points for the public. It's plus or minus 1.7 percentage points for the scientists.
Critical thinking challenge: The American public and scientists don't seem to hold the same opinions. Why does this matter?