[Image above] Credit: Andrew Huff; Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0


Americans think that our country’s achievements and advancements in science are tops—but when it comes to their views on top issues like climate change and nuclear power, their perceptions differ from the views of scientists, says a new report from the Pew Research Center.

The study, based on a pair of surveys conducted in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, represents the responses of 2,002 members of the general public and 3,748 United States-based AAAS members.

According to the report, “Science holds an esteemed place among citizens and professionals. Americans recognize the accomplishments of scientists in key fields and, despite considerable dispute about the role of government in other realms, there is broad public support for government investment in scientific research.”

Key takeaways regarding thoughts about science and its potential to solve some of our biggest challenges include:

  • Science makes life easier. 79% of adults believe access to better quality food, healthcare, and environment through advancements in science has made life easier.
  • America is No. 1… More than half of U.S. adults say our country’s scientific achievements are the best (15%) or above average (39%) compared to the rest of the world.
  • …and scientists agree. 92% of AAAS respondents echo America’s top spot among other industrial nations, with 45% declaring U.S. scientific achievements the best in the world, and 47% calling them above average.
  • Government investments are worth it…at least, eventually. 72% say that funding for engineering and technology and basic scientific research pays off, with an additional 61% saying that those government funds are “essential” for progress.

Both groups believe that STEM education in the U.S. isn’t up to par. Just 29% of the American public consider U.S. K-12 STEM programs to be above average or the best in the world, and even fewer—a miniscule 16%—of the AAAS respondents agreed. Conversely, 46% of the scientists and 29% of the public said STEM learning offerings were below average.

The similarities mostly end there.

The disparity between the way the public views scientific issues and the way scientists view them is great, including a 51-point gap on whether or not it’s safe to eat genetically modified foods (37% of Americans vs. 88% of scientists) and significant gaps between opinions on climate change, the world’s growing population, nuclear power, offshore drilling, fracking, and the U.S. space program.

There’s a great deal more data included in the report, the first of several the center plans to release in the coming year.

To read the report in full (PDF), click here. You can also explore Pew’s interactive report here.