Americans are, by and large, fans of science. They just don’t know a lot about it.
Recently, the Pew Research Center did a “deep dive” on the attitudes of scientists and the general public, to assess the similarities and differences.
On the one hand, there is high regard and wide support for investments in scientific research: Fully 79% of adults say that science has made life easier for most people, and a majority is positive about science’s impact on the quality of health care, food and the environment. More than half of adults (54%) consider U.S. scientific achievements to be either the best in the world or above average compared with other industrial countries; 92% of AAAS scientists hold similarly praiseworthy views.
When the questions got down into “the weeds,” however, the results were much like surveys about the Constitution (in the words of one report, “Americans Revere Constitution, Have No Idea What’s In It.”)
So we find stark differences between what scientists believe, based upon careful empirical research and the scientific method, and what Americans think scientists believe.
The differences in beliefs about the nature of reality are wide. For example, 88% of scientists think GMO foods are safe; 37% of Americans think they are safe. There are less dramatic, but still substantial, gaps between scientists and the public about the Big Bang, evolution, and climate change.
What is even more interesting, however, is Pew’s finding that Americans who hold beliefs at odds with settled science believe that scientists are “split” on these issues. So Americans who reject the science of climate change tell survey researchers that scientific opinion is divided on the matter. As Pew delicately puts it, “Perceptions of where the scientific community stands on both climate change and evolution tend to be associated with individual views on the issue.”
More evidence–as if we needed it–that we humans see the reality we choose to see.