Most people support science overall. But there are some topics it seems we’ll never agree on.
A poll of 2,002 adults released by Pew Research Center yesterday revealed that the American public, in general, support science and think it has made their lives easier.
But despite this, the opinions of scientists and the rest of society appear to differ on a number of topics. Pew posed several questions on controversial topics to the US public and a “representative sample” of 3,748 scientists connected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). These are some of the differences they found in the groups’ answers.
This answer has the largest difference between the public and scientists, with 37% of the adults surveyed saying GM foods are safe to eat, compared to 88% of scientists.
In fact, most of the public surveyed (67%) thought that scientists did not have a clear understanding of the health effects of GM – a minority (28%) said they did.
Here, 28% of adults thought eating food grown with pesticides was safe compared to 68% of scientists.
Sixty-five percent of adults (and 98% of scientists) thought that humans and other living things have evolved over time, and 31% of adults (and 2% of scientists) thought humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning.
30 percent of US adults surveyed think that parents should get to choose whether their children are vaccinated, instead of it being a requirement. Only 13% of scientists agreed.
There’s a 42 point gap between scientists who are in favour of using animals in research (89%) and the public who agree (47%).
There’s a 37 point gap between scientists (87%) and the public (50%) who think human activity is causing climate change over “natural patterns”. Only 3% of scientists think there’s not enough evidence to say either way, compared to 25% of the adults surveyed.
These differences should be taken with a decent pinch of salt, and don’t prove either way whether people trust scientists on these issues.
For starters both the public and scientists, as groups, obviously have a lot of variation within them. And if someone disagrees with the overall scientific opinion on an issue, that’s not necessarily because they don’t trust scientists.
The survey came under criticism from Daniel Sarewitz, a geoscientist and co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University in Tempe, who told Nature:
The very exercise itself is aimed, perhaps unintentionally, at perpetuating the lie that â€˜science’ is one unified enterprise that can be meaningfully isolated from society, and that scientists’ views about issues outside of their specific domain of expertise are more imbued with objectivity and less clouded by bias or ignorance than the unwashed â€˜public’.