I’ve long been interested in science – mostly earth sciences and the science of living things, including how people think. So when Pew research released their latest study of how scientists felt about different issues from what the general public believes I not only read the article in my newspaper, but googled it to find out more details. The research found that in 8 of the 13 science-oriented issues, there was a 30% point or higher gap between scientists’ opinions and the general public’s opinion.
Last May, the comedian and late night talk show host John Oliver had scientists on discussing human-induced climate change. Some endorsed the idea, others didn’t. Out of 100 scientists, only three were skeptics. I didn’t see it, but as one who believes in mostly human caused climate change, wouldn’t you think almost everybody should believe it by now? However, according to the Pew research only 50% of the general public believes in people caused climate change. That means half of our country doesn’t believe it. Incredible! It makes one wonder where they get their information.
Then when you get to genetically modified foods, 88% of the scientists believe it’s safe to eat while only 37% of U.S. adults do. That’s a big gap. Another big gap comes with the belief in evolution. Ninety-eight percent of scientists believe in it, but only 65% of the general public believes in it. I found that very surprising.
Moving on to something that has recently surfaced in the news. Measles. Huge outbreaks are happening in California as well as to a lesser extent in other parts of the country. Not all of the children were unvaccinated, but most of them were. Reason? The group of parents who believed the now debunked research those vaccinations caused Autism, refused to have their children vaccinated. Statistics show that 86% of scientists feel vaccinations should be required while only 68% of the general public do. Fortunately, most parents still get their children vaccinated even if they don’t believe it should be required.
Off shore drilling. What do you think about that? I’m against it. The oceans are already in trouble as scientists are finding. Coral reefs are in trouble. Sea creatures; mammals, fish and birds are dying off. Baby sea lions are dying on California beaches. The scientists who study marine mammals think maybe mother sea lions are abandoning their young to go further out to sea to find food. Only 32% of scientists favor off shore drilling, while 52% of the general public favors it.
Sixty-five percent of scientists favor building more nuclear power plants, 45% of the general public do. Are astronauts essential for the future of the U.S. space program? Fifty-nine percent of the general public believes that while only 47% of scientists believe it.
The study polled a random sample of 3,748 AAAS scientists based in the U.S. that included chemistry, medical sciences, earth sciences, social sciences and astronomy. Cory Funk, the lead author of the study and associate director of science research at Pew, said they tried to cover as broad an array of topics as possible in creating the study.
She found it hard to pinpoint a single reason there’s such large gaps in perception between scientists and the general public. However, a few in-depth questions may have skewed what scientists themselves believe. Thirty-seven percent of the public doesn’t think scientists agree on climate change and yet a large percentage of them do. The general public thinks that scientists don’t understand the danger in health effects of genetically modified crops.
One thing that experts and amateurs agreed on was the need for better K-12 STEM (science, technology, engineering, & math) in schools. Personally, science was one of my favorite subjects to teach in third grade. I had a large science center in my room with all sorts of hands on items there depending on the topic being covered as well as microscopes and magnifying glasses. But not all teachers embrace science. Not all would have snake skins, hornet nests, insects, spiders, bones, etc. in their rooms.
According to the study, scientists view the discrepancies in public opinion on science as affecting all levels of society. A majority of scientists don’t believe the best science guides clean water, air, or food regulations. And only 58% of scientists find that the best science guides new drug and medical treatment. That’s kind of scary, isn’t it?
Although the general public generally supports the sciences, why is there such a disparity of belief by the general public from what the scientists believe? In my opinion, it’s where they get their news or don’t get their news. I think those who debunk the scientific view of topics, tend to be louder and speak as authorities about falsehoods. If something is said often enough and loud enough with a voice sounding like an authority on the topic, a lot of people will believe and like an oil spill on the ocean, it spreads and contaminates the public.
I do my part in saving the earth by recycling, driving a small car that uses little gas, etc. and not using insecticides. Well, I might spray a ground nest of yellow jackets if it’s near where I mow. In my small way as a writer, I’ll include people and topics in my books on my viewpoints, like environmentalism in my second book. Already, I’m thinking of putting in a future book, a character that embodies the outdated views of much of the general public.
What are your views on the topics covered by the Pew Research?