What scientists and the American public think of each other. And what scientists think about how the media portray science to that same public.

And whether scientists and the public at large see eye-to-eye on corporations and social responsibility. And on issues ranging from a warming atmosphere to evolution. And on the standing of U.S.-based science in the global community.

Insights on those issues and more are included in a recent public opinion survey released by The Pew Research Center for People & the Press.

An Online Quiz

How knowledgeable is the public – and how knowledgeable are YOU – about science? The Pew research reported on in this piece comes complete with a 12-question online quiz.

Only one question deals directly with climate change, but it’s a fun exercise and one that allows you to compare (contrast?) your results with peers and others surveyed as part of the Pew research.

Scientists are likely to find more comforting news in the report, conducted in cooperation with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), than journalists, who come in for a not-undeserved licking. On the other hand, some of the survey findings might have scientists thinking things quickly went down hill after that “Americans like science.” Opening sentence.

Among the findings, based in part on a survey of more than 2,500 scientists and 1,050 nonscientists:

  • The public holds scientists “in high regard,” but the feelings may not be mutual – 85 percent of scientists see the public’s lack of scientific knowledge as “a major problem”;
  • Nearly half of those scientists say the public has “unrealistic expectations” about the speed of scientific accomplishments;
  • Three-quarters of the scientists surveyed say news reports “fail to distinguish between findings that are well-founded and those that are not”;
  • Nearly half of the scientists say the media oversimplify science … “a major problem”;
  • For TV, the principal source of news for most Americans, 15 percent of the scientists rate the science coverage excellent or good, with 83 percent saying it is poor;
  • Barely one-third of the scientists consider newspaper science coverage to be excellent, with 63 percent saying it is fair or poor;
  • Sixty (60) percent of the 1,005 adults surveyed say government financial support for scientific research is essential, and this is an area in which partisan differences “are fairly modest” – 80 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of Republicans saying government investments in basic science pay off;
  • One in five scientists, but nearly two in five nonscientists, agree that “business corporations generally strike a fair balance” between profits and public interest;
  • Eighty-four (84) percent of scientists – but only 49 percent of others surveyed – say Earth is getting warmer because of human activities such as burning of fossil fuels;
  • Fifty-five (55) percent of the scientists surveyed said they are Democrats, compared with 35 percent of the public generally, and “fully 52 percent of the scientists call themselves liberals,” compared with 20 percent of the public at large. Just 20 percent of the public “think of scientists as politically liberal,” but 56 percent of scientists surveyed “do see members of their profession as liberal.”
  • Most scientists surveyed indicated they had heard about allegations of suppressed research findings under the Bush administration, and 77 percent said they think those accusations are true. For the public at large, fewer than half had heard of those allegations … and only 28 percent said they think the claims true.
  • “Virtually all scientists (97 percent) endorse their participation in debates about these issues, while 76 percent of the public agrees.”