Perceptions of Science – Scientist vs Public

As summarized this week in Science, the Pew Research Center for People and the Press reported results of a series of 3 surveys of the public and scientists on their perception of science and scientists as well as the public’s general knowledge of science:

The survey of the general public was conducted on landlines and cell phones among 2,001 adults April 28-May 12; the online survey of scientists was conducted among a sample of 2,533 members of the AAAS from May 1-June 14. Science knowledge questions were included in a separate survey of the general public, conducted on landlines and cell phones among 1,005 adults June 18-21.

Not sure what to make of the public ranking members of the military as those who most “contribute a lot to society’s well-being” … 84% versus 70% for scientists and … in a little dig to that other class of doctors … 69% for medical doctors.

A bigger concern is the public response to “which comes closer to your view …”

Govt investment in research is essential for scientific progress – 60% [!!]
Private investment ensures enough progress w/out govt investment – 29% [!!!]

No wonder Congress doesn’t have a fire lit under them to increase and stabilize research funding …

You can take the general science knowledge quiz and, when you are done, raise your eyebrows at the perhaps not entirely surprising results in the elegant Tufte-esque display of the data by demographic and question.



  1. D said

    Woo hoo. 12/12 correct. Top 10%! On the other hand it was a pretty easy test. I feel like the smartest cow in the herd. Moooo.

  2. D said

    I think the question that was the most discouraging with only 47% correct was

    Lasers work by focusing sound waves. (T/F)

    Everyone plays with laser pointers and has seen laser light shows. How could they not put two and two together! They did worse than random chance.


  3. Odyssey said

    I found the lack of basic understanding of what stem cells are very disturbing given the strong feeling many people have about them and how much press they’ve had. Ditto for the number of people who couldn’t identify a greenhouse gas…

    • I’m with Odyssey, especially on the greenhouse gas. Do they not watch the news? Ever?

  4. whimple said

    Interesting that 72% of scientists are male. Worst confusion among the public is that antibiotics work on viruses. Not good.

  5. microfool said

    Are the demographics of AAAS representative of scientists in general?

  6. […] Perceptions of Science – Scientist vs Public Tags: Open science, public awareness | October 21st, 2009 by Daniel Gaddy | Posted in Research Resources | […]

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