Some Say “Unscientific America;” Pew Report Says Americans Like Science

This week the Pew Research Center reported results of a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  The report is entitled Scientific Achievements Less Prominent Than a Decade Ago: Public Praises Science; Scientists Fault Public, Media.   You can read or download the entire report on the Pew website.  They also issued the results of a test of science knowledge, and indeed you can link here to take the quiz and find out how you did in comparison to others.  For teachers, this “test” would a very useful tool during the first week of class this year to stimulate discussion, and to find out about students’ knowledge of science. 

The report is timely compliment to Mooney & Kirshenbaum’s book, Unscientific America.  Both the report, and the book explore the tension that exists among scientists, the public and the media.  Indeed, you can read Mooney and Kirshenbaum’s first response to the Pew Center report on their blog

A sample of the general public (N=2,001) and a sample of scientists (N=2,533) were interviewed for the Pew study.  

When asked how much different professions contribute to the well-being of society, the results put members of the military and teachers ahead of scientists, with business executives and lawyers at the bottom.   Although the people surveyed do not keep up with science that much, or read science journals, they agree that science has a “mostly positive” effect on our society. 

The survey was designed so that a comparisons could be made between the public and scientists.  You’ll find in the report differences in views on evolution, global warming, and funding for embryonic stem cell research.  In each of these cases, there is near consensus among scientists (in saying that humans evolved over time, for example), while not so among the public. 

The report is important to science teachers.  Not only are teachers esteemed in our society, but they are the professionals that work directly with helping the public understand science.  Although scientists are concerned about what the public understands about science, and the way the media covers science, the overall perception is a positive one for science.  



About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University.