NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 31, 2009

This spring, Pew Research Center surveyed two groups of adults and members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).  Its findings about the public's general knowledge of science -- a barely passing grade of 65 percent -- mirror the results of similar studies.  But Pew added a new wrinkle by asking both scientists and the public what they think about current hot topics and other matters, says Science Magazine.

The online survey sampled 10,000 AAAS members, excluding schoolteachers.  According to the results, the public imagines scientists to be less politically partisan than they actually are, and scientists are decidedly more liberal/Democratic than the general population:

  • When how they seem themselves politically, 56 percent of scientists said they are liberal, two percent said conservative, while 42 percent didn't not classify with either ideology.
  • However, the public views scientists as having no political ideology (64 percent), eight percent didn't know, 20 percent said they were liberal and only nine percent answered conservative.
  • When asked what party affiliation they subscribe to, most scientists answered Democrat (55 percent), 32 percent are Independents, six percent Republicans, four percent other and three percent declined to answer.
  • The public, on the other hand, is split between Democrat and Independent (35 percent and 34 percent, respectively), 23 percent see themselves as Republicans and four percent either answered other or not at all.

Not surprisingly, there is a wide gap between the scientific community and the public on some issues.  For example, 84 percent of the former and only 49 percent of the latter say that humans contribute to global warming.  Likewise, 88 percent of scientists versus 32 percent of the broader adult population say that natural processes have led living things to evolve, says Science.

Source: Jeffrey Mervis, "An Inside/Outside View of U.S. Science," Science, July 10, 2009; based upon: Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, "Public Praises Science; Scientists Fault Public, Media," Pew Research Center, July 9, 2009.

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