Despite Esteem for Science, Public at Odds with Scientists on Major Issues
The Pew Research Center is taking a close look at the real and perceived role of science in the eyes of the American public and policy-makers. In a study of both the scientific community and a broad cross section of the public, Pew examined how Americans view science in relation to their own lives and public policy, in addition to investigating how scientists see themselves as agents of influence in American life. Of special interest to animal advocates is a considerably large difference in how both groups view animal research issues as well as certain matters related to food.
Without doubt, public policy is often shaped by conclusions drawn in the scientific community. While the role of science in public life is fairly well established through government agencies, academia, and private enterprises, the general public does not always fully appreciate its function. The ability of scientists to communicate the value of their ideas to the public is crucial, and so is the public’s ability to steer science when they feel that it oversteps ethical lines. The Pew Research Center is exploring this dynamic in their research, and a 2015 study shows that for all the ways that the public and scientific community have aligned attitudes, there are just as many occasions when their opinions diverge.
On the one hand, researchers note that “there is esteem and wide support for investments in scientific research.” A vast majority of U.S. adults credit science with making life easier for most people. A smaller majority of adults see the value in government investment into science. And a slight majority consider the U.S. to be a world leader in scientific achievements.
On the other hand, however, “there is clear evidence that citizens and scientists often see science-related issues through different lenses.” There are some gaping percentage point differences in opinion between scientists and the general public on some very important issues. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a 51% gap between scientists and the public about the safety of GMO foods, while there is a 40% gap on the question of whether it is safe to eat foods grown with pesticides. Of special interest to animal advocates is the 42% gap “over the issue of using animals in research – 89% of scientists approve it, while 47% of the public backs the idea.” This is a considerable difference, and the fact that it shows that less than half of the general public supports animal research indicates that it could be a crucial time to advance advocacy efforts for laboratory animals.
According to the researchers, the publication of this report marks “more formal commitment to studying the intersection of science with all aspects of society from public opinion to politics and policymaking, religious and ethical considerations, and education and the economy.” This is great news for animal advocates who will always need reliable, recent information about how science is understood and framed by the general public, especially in relation to the intersections of animal issues. What this report reveals about the current public opinion of animal research would be great for animal advocates to incorporate into their work.
Scientists and their work have an important place in every major aspect of American life. Many hope that advances in science will improve people’s lives and enhance the economy. They are anxious to understand what innovations will disrupt existing daily activities and business routines. Policy arguments about science-related issues have held center stage in the Obama era, starting with the protracted arguments over medical care, insurance and the Affordable Care Act and extending into every cranny of energy and environmental concerns, policies around food, challenges created by digital technology disruptions, and whether educators are preparing today’s K-12 students for a future with greater requirements for science literacy and numeracy. A report released today by the Pew Research Center, based on surveys of the general public and U.S scientists connected with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), finds powerful crosscurrents of the views of the two groups.