Chapter 7: Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding


Americans and the citizens of other countries continue to get most of their information about the latest developments in S&T from watching television. However, the Internet has made inroads and is the leading source of information on specific scientific issues. Although Americans continue to rely most heavily on other, traditional sources of news and information, the Internet is the only news medium with an expanding audience.

Most Americans recognize and appreciate the benefits of S&T. The public is also highly supportive of the government's role in funding basic research. By most measures, American attitudes about S&T are considerably more positive than those in Europe and Japan, but about the same as those in South Korea and Malaysia.

In the United States and other countries, however, residents do not know much about S&T. In addition, their level of knowledge and understanding of scientific terms and concepts has not changed appreciably in the past few years. Perhaps more importantly, most Americans do not understand the scientific process and therefore may lack a valuable tool for assessing the validity of various claims they encounter in daily life. On a related note, evidence suggests that belief in pseudoscience is relatively widespread.

Although Americans generally have very positive attitudes about S&T and high regard for scientists, some harbor reservations about S&T, and many (70% of those surveyed) believe that scientific research does not pay enough attention to moral values. Although Americans are overwhelmingly supportive of medical applications of biotechnology, they are strongly opposed to human cloning. They are more evenly divided about genetically modified food and embryonic stem cell research. Support for the latter, however, has increased recently. Researchers are just beginning to track public attitudes toward and understanding of the emerging field of nanotechnology.

National Science Board.