Vast opinion differences between scientists, US public: researchers


WASHINGTON — Average Americans hold vastly different opinions than scientists about animal experiments, climate change, genetically modified foods and offshore oil drilling, researchers said Thursday. The largest opinion gap found in the study, published in the U.S. journal Science, was on whether genetically modified foods are safe to eat. Eighty-eight percent of scientists surveyed said GMO foods are generally safe to eat, compared to 37 percent of the public. When it came to the use of animals in research, 50 percent of Americans oppose the practice, while 89 percent of scientists favor it. Another divide was seen in offshore drilling �X 52 percent of citizens favored more of it, compared to 32 percent of scientists. Although the scientific community considers that there is a vast consensus among experts that climate change is real and it is human-driven, the public was not so sure. Asked if there was a scientific consensus on climate change, 57 percent of the public said scientists are ��generally in agreement that the earth is getting warmer due to human activity,�� and 37 percent said scientists do not agree. The study was led by the Pew Research Center in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The survey was given by phone to some 2,000 adults nationwide, and online from some 3,700 scientists who are members of AAAS. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Of the 13 issues examined, the closest agreement was seen on the issue of whether the International Space Station has been a good investment for the United States �X 64 percent of the public and 68 percent of AAAS scientists said yes. ��Science is a huge, sprawling cluster of subjects. We knew from the 2009 Pew Research Center study that there could be differences between the public and scientists on at least some issues. But we were surprised by the size of those differences and how often they occur,�� said Cary Funk, lead author of the report and associate director of science research at Pew Research Center. Both scientists and the public tended to agree that science, technology, engineering and math education (STEM) in America’s elementary and secondary schools is not performing well.

��Only 16 percent of AAAS scientists and 29 percent of the general public rank U.S. K-12 STEM education as above average or the best in the world,�� said the study. Three quarters of AAAS scientists said too little STEM education was a ��major factor in the public’s limited knowledge about science.��