Scientists see the world differently than we do
Scientists see the world differently than we do (Thinkstock)
Scientists see the world differently than we do
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The American public and U.S. scientists are light-years apart on science issues. And 98 percent of surveyed scientists say it's a problem that we don't know what they're talking about.

Scientists are far less worried about genetically modified food, pesticide use, and nuclear power than is the general public. That is according to matching polls of both the general public and of the country's largest general science organization.

Scientists were more certain that global warming is caused by man, evolution is real, overpopulation is a danger and mandatory vaccination against childhood diseases is needed.

In eight of 13 science-oriented issues, there was a 20 percentage point or higher gap separating 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 they are "pretty powerful indicators of the public and the scientific community seeing 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 say it is safe. 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. Only 65 percent of the public think the same. The gap wasn't quite as large for opinions about vaccines. Eighty-six percent of the scientists favor mandatory childhood shots while 68 percent of the public did.

Eighty-seven percent of scientists said global warming is mostly due to human activity, while only half of the public did. The figures for scientists are slightly different than past academic studies because of wording of the question and the fact that AAAS members include many specialties. But they tell the same essential story, said Pew associate director Cary Funk.

What to do about climate change is another issue. Nearly two-thirds of scientists favored building more nuclear power plants, but only 45 percent of the public did. But more of the public favored offshore drilling for oil and fracking than scientists did.

More than four out of five scientists thought the growing world population will be a major problem. Just less than three out of five members of the public thought the same.

The trouble, according to scientists, is that the public doesnt know the facts. The survey showed that 84 percent of the scientists said this is a major problem. They believe that "the public does not know very much about science." Another 14 percent of scientists 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?

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