Chapter 7: Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding

Public Attitudes About Science-Related Issues

Attitudes toward science in the United States are considerably more favorable than those in Europe and Japan, although similar to those in other Asian countries such as China and South Korea. Despite some disparity in attitudes toward science, Americans and the citizens of other countries strongly support government funding of basic research. Recently, the public has grappled with controversial developments such as cloning and embryonic stem cell research (the vast majority of Americans oppose cloning, but attitudes about embryonic stem cell research are mixed). Genetically modified foods continue to generate public concern around the world, especially in Europe. In addition, scientists have been keeping a watchful eye on public opinion regarding the emerging field of nanotechnology, which some fear may prompt unwarranted or excessive concerns about safety (Cobb and Macoubrie 2004). Regardless of their attitudes about these and other science-related issues, Americans' confidence in the science community has remained high for several decades.

This section takes an in-depth look at public attitudes about S&T in general, high-profile issues that have tended to generate controversy, and science as a profession. It presents survey data from a variety of sources in the United States and other countries.

S&T in General

In general, Americans have highly favorable attitudes about S&T. In the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) 2004 Life Sciences Survey, 90% of respondents agreed that developments in science have helped make society better, and 92% agreed that "scientific research is essential for improving the quality of human lives." These two statistics were higher in 2004 than they have ever been (VCU Center for Public Policy 2004).

Attitudes toward S&T are also highly favorable in Europe. Nearly 9 out of 10 of those surveyed agreed that "developments in S&T have improved the quality of life for [their] generation," and nearly 8 out of 10 said that S&T "will improve the quality of life of future generations" (European Commission 2005b).

Americans seem to have more positive attitudes about the benefits of S&T than are found in Europe, Russia, and Japan; however, attitudes in China and South Korea are similar to those in the United States, if not more favorable (figure 7-10 figure.; appendix table 7-16 Excel table.). These attitudes are reflected in levels of agreement with various statements in surveys conducted most recently in 2004 (United States and South Korea), 2001 (China, Europe, and Japan), 2000 (Malaysia), or 2003 (Russia):

  • "Science and technology are making our lives healthier, easier, and more comfortable." Among Americans surveyed, 91% of Americans agreed with the statement. The Chinese and South Korean statistics were similar to the U.S. findings, but lower percentages were recorded in Japan and Europe. In Russia, only half of those surveyed agreed with the statement.
  • "With the application of science and new technology, work will become more interesting." About three-fourths of Americans agreed with the statement in 2004, as did somewhat greater proportions of Malaysians, South Koreans, and Chinese. Once again, the level of agreement was lower in Europe and considerably lower in Japan.
  • "Because of science and technology, there will be more opportunities for the next generation." Among Americans, 86% agreed. Percentages for the other surveys ranged from 83% (South Korea) to 66% (Japan).
  • "The benefits of scientific research outweigh the harmful results."[32] In the United States, 84% of survey respondents agreed with the statement in 2004.[33] The level of agreement was also high in China and South Korea but was lower in Europe, where only about half agreed. In the United States, 13% of respondents disagreed with the statement, about the same percentage recorded for Europe.[34] Among Russians surveyed in 2003, 59% agreed that the benefits of scientific research outweigh the harmful results, a larger proportion than found in Europe or in Japan (40% in 2001). The Russian percentage was, however, lower than it had been in some past years (e.g., 73% in 1999, 70% in 1997), although about the same as it was in 1996 (57%).

Despite Americans' highly favorable views about the benefits of S&T, a sizeable segment of the population has some reservations. In the 2004 VCU Life Sciences Survey, 61% of respondents agreed that "scientific research these days doesn't pay enough attention to the moral values of society." However, that percentage has been declining steadily and dropped 12 percentage points between 2001 and 2004. Agreement that "scientific research has created as many problems for society as it has solutions" also declined, from 59% in 2002 to 51% in 2004. In the 2004 Life Sciences Survey, those who said that "religious beliefs provide...guidance in [their] day-to-day living" were considerably more likely than others to support both statements (VCU Center for Public Policy 2004).

Findings from the NSF survey and other surveys also reveal some reservations about S&T in the United States and other countries. For example, Americans were more likely than the citizens of most other countries to agree with the statement "we depend too much on science and not enough on faith." In the United States, 56% of respondents agreed in 2004. The percentage of agreement was similar in South Korea and Malaysia but considerably lower in Europe and Russia.

Another survey item revealed less reservation about science in the United States than in other countries. One-third of Americans agreed that "science makes our way of life change too fast." Although the Russian response was similar, surveys in other countries all recorded much higher levels of agreement.

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Government Funding of Scientific Research

All indicators point to widespread public support for government funding of basic research in the United States and elsewhere. This has been the case since at least the mid-1980s.

In 2004, 83% of NSF survey respondents agreed with the following statement: "Even if it brings no immediate benefits, scientific research that advances the frontiers of knowledge is necessary and should be supported by the federal government."[35] The stability of this measure of public support for basic research is noteworthy. The level of agreement has been around 80% since 1985. In addition, a consistently small percentage of respondents have held the opposite view. In 2004, 17% disagreed with the statement; only 2% strongly disagreed with it (appendix table 7-18 Excel table.).

The level of agreement about the desirability of government funding for research is similarly high in other world regions. Among Europeans surveyed, 76% favor government investment in basic research, and the level of agreement was similar or even higher in South Korea (91%), China (90%), Malaysia (82%), and Japan (80%)[36] (figure 7-11 figure.; appendix table 7-19 Excel table.).

Although there is strong evidence that the American public supports the government's investment in basic research, few Americans can name the two agencies that provide most of the federal funds for this type of research. In a recent survey, only 5% identified the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as the "government agency that funds most of the medical research paid for by taxpayers in this country,"[37] and only 3% named NSF as "the government agency that funds most of the basic research and education programming in the sciences, mathematics, and engineering in this country." In the same survey, 68% could name the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as the "government agency that conducts the review and approval of new drugs and devices before they can be put on the market in this country," and 32% were able to name the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the "government agency whose primary mission is disease prevention and health promotion in this country" (Research!America 2005). Between 2001 and 2004, the number of people who could name NIH, NSF, or the FDA remained about the same, but the number who could identify the CDC increased from 24% to 32%.

In 2004, 13% of General Social Survey (GSS) respondents thought the government was spending too much on scientific research; 40% thought the government was not spending enough-an increase over the 34-37% levels recorded between 1988 and 2002.[38] In another survey, 57% thought it was very important "in terms of job creation and incomes" for the government to invest in scientific research, and an additional 36% thought it was somewhat important (Research!America 2005).

To put the response on scientific research in perspective, it helps to look at the percentage who thought the government was not spending enough in other program areas: improving health care (79%) and education (74%), reducing pollution (64%), improving national defense (39%), and exploring space (15%). The percentage favoring increased spending went up in all categories (except improving education) between 2002 and 2004 (appendix table 7-20 Excel table.).

The loss of the Columbia space shuttle in early 2003 apparently had little, if any, impact on public support for the U.S. space program. Public attitudes about manned space flight were strikingly similar to those recorded in 1986 after the loss of the space shuttle Challenger.[39]

Support for increased government spending on research is more common in Europe than in the United States. When asked about the statement "my government should spend more money on scientific research and less on other things," 57% of Eurobarometer respondents agreed. Italy, Spain, France, and Turkey had the highest rates of agreement, and the Netherlands, Finland, and Malta the lowest (European Commission 2005a).

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Environmental Issues

Concern about the quality of the environment has not changed much since 2002, according to the Gallup Organization's Earth Day survey, conducted in March of each year. In 2005, 35% of those surveyed said they "worried a great deal" about the quality of the environment, 30% said they worried "a fair amount," and 34% had little or no worry. However, the percentage of Americans who said they worried a great deal or a fair amount was lower in 2005 (and the 2 previous years) than in 2001 (Saad 2005).

Environment Compared With Other Concerns

The environment also ranks fairly low, in terms of worry, among various problems facing the country. Among 12 problems included in the survey in 2005, the quality of the environment ranked 9th. More people said they worried a great deal about the availability and affordability of health care (60%), Social Security (48%), crime and violence (46%), drug use (42%), the possibility of future terrorist attacks in the United States (41%), the availability and affordability of energy (39%), the economy (38%), and hunger and homelessness (37%) (Blizzard 2005).

Only 1% of those surveyed in 2005 named the environment when asked "what do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?"[40] Although the environment does not register as a serious current problem, the public considers it one of the most important problems the country will face in 25 years. But even by that long-term measure, concern about the environment has declined. Until 2002, the environment was the most frequently mentioned problem in response to the 25-year outlook question. Since 2002, more people have named other problems. Nearly a quarter (23%) of those surveyed in 2005 chose Social Security, followed by the economy in general, at a distant 9%. Only 6% named the environment (the same percentage chose health care), down from 14% and 11% in 2000 and 2001, respectively (Saad 2005).

Global Warming

Although Americans seem to accept climate change, or global warming, as a real phenomenon, most do not seem to have a great deal of concern about it.[41] In addition, in 2005, only 16% of Americans said they understood the issue of global warming "very well," about half (54%) understood it "fairly well," and the rest answered either "not very well" (24%) or "not at all" (6%). These percentages are almost identical to those recorded in each of the four previous annual surveys (Saad 2005).

In 2005, 31% of those surveyed said that news reports on global warming generally exaggerated the problem, down from 38% of those surveyed the previous year. The number who believe that the press has been underestimating the problem was 35% in 2005, about the same as the percentages in the two previous survey cycles (but up from 27% in 1997). In 2005, 29% thought that news coverage of global warming was generally correct (the same percentage as 2003 but up from 25% in 2004) (Saad 2004, 2005a) (figure 7-12 figure.).

Whatever their view about the seriousness of global warming, more than half (54%) of Americans surveyed in 2005 think its effects have already begun, and others expect to see effects within a few years (5%) or within their lifetime (10%). Only 9% said the potential effects of global warming would never happen. Once again, these percentages changed little between 2001 and 2005. In addition, most Americans (61%) believe that human activities, more than natural causes, are responsible for increases in the Earth's temperature over the last century.

In 2005, 42% of Americans thought that the United States should agree to abide by the provisions of the Kyoto agreement on global warming; 23% said it should not, and 35% had no opinion. These statistics were virtually unchanged from the previous year (Moore 2004).

Although Americans seem to be aware of the issue and believe press reports, they are less concerned about global warming than other environmental hazards. On a list of 10 types of environmental issues, "damage to Earth's ozone layer" and the "'greenhouse effect' or global warming" ranked eighth and ninth, respectively, in 2004 (table 7-7 table.). In addition, after increasing from 24% in 1997 to 40% in 2000, the number of people who worry a great deal about global warming declined to 26% in 2004. In fact, 9 of the 10 items on the list had similar declines between 2000 and 2004, with "maintenance of the nation's supply of fresh water for household needs" the only exception. Figure 7-13 figure. shows the decline in the public's worry about four environmental problems (global warming, air pollution, acid rain, and damage to the ozone layer) from 2000 to 2004 (Saad 2004).

Trust in Institutions

Americans place the most trust in local and national environmental organizations to protect the quality of the environment. However, the level of trust in national environmental groups in 2005 was down from that recorded in 2000 (Carlson 2005b).

About a quarter of those surveyed said they trusted national and local environmental organizations "a great deal." The comparable numbers for federal environmental agencies like the EPA and state environmental agencies were 22% and 16%, respectively. Politicians and private industry fared less well, with the percentage of "great deal" responses ranging from 15% for the Democratic Party and small businesses to 7% for large corporations. (The U.S. Congress [11%] and the Republican Party [7%] fell in between those groups.)

Government Environmental Policy

In 2005, a majority of Americans (58%) chose the "too little" response to the question, "do you think the U.S. government is doing too much, too little, or about the right amount in terms of protecting the environment?" Only 5% said "too much." These numbers resulted in the highest ratio of "too little" to "too much" since 1992, when 68% said the government was doing too little. That percentage fell continuously after 1992 until it reached a low point of 51% in 2003 (Dunlap 2005).

When survey respondents were asked in 2005 to choose between two statements about tradeoffs between environmental protection and economic growth, "protection of the environment should be given priority, even at the risk of curbing economic growth" or "economic growth should be given priority, even if the environment suffers to some extent," 53% chose the former, and 36% the latter. The percentage choosing the environment rose 6 percentage points between 2003 and 2005, after declining steadily from a peak of 69% in 2000 to an all-time low of 47% in 2003 (Carlson 2005a). Similarly, the percentage favoring economic growth over the environment in 2005 was the lowest it has been since 2002 (Carlson 2005a) (figure 7-14 figure.).[42]

In 2005, about half of the respondents (53%) opposed opening up the Alaskan Arctic Wildlife Refuge for oil exploration; 42% were in favor of it, up from 35% in 2002. Polls on this subject often produce inconsistent results, because of question wording and the general public's unfamiliarity with the issue (Moore 2005a).

In 2005, a slight majority (54%) of Americans favored using nuclear energy to provide electricity, about the same as the percentage recorded a year earlier, but a slight increase over the 2001 level. However, most Americans (63%) were opposed to the construction of a nuclear energy facility where they live. Men were more likely than women to favor nuclear energy and the construction of a plant in their community (Carlson 2005c).

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Attitudes Toward Technology

Americans welcome new consumer products that are based on the latest technologies. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the burgeoning market for an array of devices that enhance and expand audio and video communication capabilities. About three-fourths of the population had a home computer and/or a digital video disc (DVD) player in 2004, and nearly as many (68%) had a cell phone. In addition, almost 15% of those surveyed in 2004 said they owned a personal digital assistant (PDA) and/or had a digital video recorder (DVR) or TiVo (a digital video recording set-top device for home televisions). As mentioned earlier in this chapter, the number of households with broadband Internet connections has grown tremendously in recent years, and the vast majority of Americans also subscribe to cable or have satellite service (Pew Research Center for the People and the Press 2004). Table 7-8 table. shows Americans' increasing acquisition of high-technology products between 1996 and 2004.[43]

An overwhelming number of Americans have favorable views of new technological developments in general. In response to the question, "on the whole, have developments in new technology helped make society better or not," 88% answered "better," a statistic that has been roughly the same since 2001, the first year the question was asked (VCU Center for Public Policy 2004).

Surveys conducted in the United States and Canada in 2005 show that respondents share a positive view of technology in general (69% and 65%, respectively), but differ somewhat in their perception of some specific technologies (Canadian Biotechnology Secretariat 2005). In both countries, men hold a more favorable view than women, and the level of agreement rises with respondents' income level; this is true for technology in general and for most specific technology fields. The same surveys also revealed considerable public support for research in the relatively new fields of biotechnology and nanotechnology, as well as confidence in the scientists who conduct the research. (See sidebar, "Americans and Canadians Share Optimistic Attitudes Toward Science and Those Who Practice It.")

Large majorities in the United States, Canada, and Europe believe that certain technologies, such as hybrid cars and computers and information technology, will "improve our way of life in the next 20 years,"[44] with not much difference between the three surveys. On the other hand, successively smaller percentages of respondents in all three (but fewer in Canada than in the United States and Europe) hold that view of cell phones, nuclear energy, and nanotechnology (figure 7-15 figure.). In addition, 40% of Americans and 52% of Canadians viewed genetically modified food as likely to "make things worse," and 28% of Americans and 39% of Canadians thought the same of nuclear energy.

In 2005, 72% of Americans thought that biotechnology would "improve our way of life in the next 20 years." This was a considerable gain over the 51% who expressed that view in 2000. In addition, the proportion who thought that biotechnology would "make things worse" in the next 20 years fell from 29% in 2000 to 13% in 2005. The pattern was similar in Europe, where the proportion of survey respondents who were optimistic about biotechnology increased from 38% in 1999 to 65% in 2005, while the proportion who were pessimistic dropped from 31% to 19% (figure 7-16 figure.).

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Biotechnology and Medical Research

The introduction of new technologies based on genetic engineering has generated controversy during the past decade. From a nationwide recall of taco shells containing genetically modified corn not approved for human consumption to scientists promising to clone humans in the not-too-distant future, people around the world have been trying to determine whether the potential benefits of biotechnology outweigh the risks.

Most people admit to being ill informed about biotechnology. In 2003, 2004, and 2005, only 1 out of 10 Americans described themselves as being "very familiar" with biotechnology. In 2005, 56% thought they were somewhat familiar with it, 25% described themselves as "not very familiar," and 9% said "not at all familiar." Canadians were slightly less likely than Americans to consider themselves familiar with biotechnology (Canadian Biotechnology Secretariat 2005).[45]

When asked whether they have a positive, neutral, or negative reaction to the word biotechnology, Americans and Canadians had similar reactions. In the United States, 38% of those surveyed in 2005 said they had a positive reaction. The comparable numbers for 2004 and 2003 were 41% and 36%, respectively. The percentages were similar for Canada (Canadian Biotechnology Secretariat 2005).

In 2005, 19% of Americans said that they strongly supported "the use of products and processes that involve biotechnology." About half (52%) chose the "support" category. The remainder said they opposed biotechnology (16%) or strongly opposed it (6%). These numbers did not change between 2003 and 2005. In contrast, the number of Canadians saying they supported biotechnology increased from 51% in 2003 to 67% in 2005, and the number opposing it dropped from 37% to 28% during the same period, causing the Canadian numbers to more closely resemble those for the United States in 2005 (Canadian Biotechnology Secretariat 2005).

Americans and Canadians also held similar views of biotechnology's potential in the field of medicine. In 2005, more than 8 out of 10 respondents in each country agreed that biotechnology would be one of the most important sources of health treatments and cures in the 21st century (Canadian Biotechnology Secretariat 2005).

Americans find genetic modification of plants far more acceptable than genetic modification of animals. When asked to rate on a 10-point scale how "comfortable" they are with genetic modification of different types of life forms, respondents were most comfortable with the modification of plants (5.94 average rating), followed by microbes (4.14), animals used for food (3.73), insects (3.56), and animals used for other purposes (2.29). The survey participants were least comfortable with the genetic modification of humans (1.35). When asked specifically about genetic modification of animals, more than half (57%) of those surveyed said they opposed it; only one-third (32%) favored it. These percentages remained virtually unchanged between 2003 and 2004 (Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology 2004).

From a list of several possible uses for biotechnology, survey participants were most likely to support "to produce more affordable pharmaceutical drugs by using plants." More than half (54%) of those surveyed said this was a very good reason to use biotechnology. Nearly as many (52%) supported "to produce less expensive food to reduce hunger around the world" (Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology 2004).

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Genetically Modified Food

Issues that people perceive as a possible threat to their health and safety—and that of their children—are bound to draw attention and generate controversy (see sidebar, "Are Americans Afraid of Getting Mad Cow Disease?"). The persistent public concern about genetically modified (GM) food, in the United States and elsewhere in the world, is a clear example.

The first products genetically altered using biotechnology started appearing on store shelves about a decade ago. Since then, concern about their safety has stirred worldwide controversy. For example, in 2003, the European Union voted to require labeling on foods containing GM ingredients. The promised benefits of GM food—increased productivity, longer shelf life, and reduced reliance on chemical pesticides—have been offset by perceived health and environmental risks and a perceived assault on consumers' right to choose what they eat.[46]

Several major surveys that measure public opinion on GM food have been undertaken in the United States in recent years. Their findings, which are similar, are summarized below.

Awareness and Knowledge

Not only are most Americans unfamiliar with GM food issues, their level of awareness has declined and their level of knowledge has not increased in recent years. In a recent survey, only 32% of respondents reported that they heard some or a great deal about genetically modified foods in 2004, a 12-point decline since 2001.[47] The public is largely dependent on the media to inform them about GM food, and when the subject receives little press coverage, their level of awareness declines (Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology 2004).[48]

Most people admit to not knowing much about GM food. The majority of survey respondents in the United States and Canada said they had read, seen, or heard only a little or nothing about issues involving GM food, and nearly half (47%) of Americans and more than half (59%) of Canadians said they had never discussed GM food with anyone before the survey interview (Canadian Biotechnology Secretariat 2005).

In addition, most Americans were unaware that GM ingredients have been in the food supply for some time. Only about half (48%) knew that GM food was currently available on their grocery store shelves, and only about a third (31%) said they had consumed it.[49] When asked to rate their own knowledge of GM food, about half (48%) chose the "very little" category. Another 16% said that they knew "nothing at all." Thirty percent claimed to know "a fair amount" and 5% thought they knew a great deal about GM food (Hallman et al. 2004).

In 2004, survey respondents were also asked a dozen quiz-type questions designed to test their knowledge of textbook genetics and basic facts about GM food. More than half of the respondents (58%) answered less than half of the questions correctly, and only three respondents (less than 1%) answered every question correctly.[50] Respondents' self-reported level of knowledge about GM food was only moderately related to their performance on the quiz (Hallman et al. 2004).


"Approval and disapproval of GM products has not changed much over the past three years" (Hallman et al. 2004). As stated earlier, Americans are more disapproving of animal-based than plant-based genetic modification. In a Food Policy Institute survey, 27% said they approved of the use of genetic modification to create plant-based food products, and 16% said the same about animal-based GM food products; 23% disapproved of plant-based GM food products, and 43% disapproved of animal-based GM products (Hallman et al. 2004).

In Europe, the most recent Eurobarometer revealed "a large diversity in public opinion at the national level on the use of genetically modified organisms for meat products or crops" (European Commission 2005b).[51]

Perceived Benefits and Risks

In judging the extent to which GM food might benefit society, on a scale of 1 to 5, 41% of Americans chose 3 (moderate benefit). About a third (31%) assigned higher scores (substantial benefits), and about a quarter (26%) gave lower scores. Almost equal numbers of Americans gave the exact same scores in response to the opposite question about how much risk GM food might pose for society. Canadians were less likely than Americans to believe in the benefits of GM foods and more likely to assign risk to them. Americans were also more likely than Canadians to think that GM food is morally and ethically acceptable. For example, 43% of Americans gave a rating of 5 (29%) or 4 (14%) in response to this question, compared with 32% of Canadians (Canadian Biotechnology Secretariat 2005).

In the most recent Pew Initiative survey, 30% of respondents agreed that GM foods are "basically safe" and 27% thought they were "basically unsafe." However, opposition to "introducing genetically modified foods into the U.S. food supply" declined from 58% in 2001 to 47% in 2004. Attitudes about the safety of GM food improved considerably when the survey participants were told that they were already consuming foods developed through biotechnology (Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology 2004).

In another survey conducted in 2004, 43% of Americans thought that the risks of GM foods outweighed the benefits (38% took the opposite view), a slight decline from the 48%-to-38% split recorded in 2000 (Harris Interactive 2004b). Survey respondents recognized both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, 71% of respondents in 2004 (up from 66% in 2000) believed that agricultural production would increase because of GM plants and crops, and 47% (up from 42% in 2000) believed that GM crops "will make food less expensive than it would be otherwise." On the negative side, a majority (54%) in 2004 thought GM crops "will upset the balance of nature and upset the environment" (Harris Interactive 2004b).[52]

Government Regulation

Along with health and environmental concerns, labeling of GM food products is a related biotechnology issue that has received considerable attention in recent years. However, Americans appear to know very little about this topic. In 2004, most survey respondents (68%) did not know that the federal government does not require food labels to specify that a product contains GM ingredients. In addition, 88% did not know that GM crops are not tested for human safety, and 77% did not know that they are not tested for environmental safety (Hallman et al. 2004).[53]

A recent survey found a high level of confidence in the government's ability to properly regulate GM food, with three-fifths (61%) of those surveyed assigning scores of 5 or 4 (on a 5-point scale) in describing their level of confidence in the safety and regulatory approval systems of the U.S. government. Only 3% assigned a score of less than 3. Canadians expressed slightly less confidence in their government regulatory approval system (Canadian Biotechnology Secretariat 2005).

In another survey conducted in 2004, 8% of Americans who reported hearing about regulations for GM foods thought there is "too much" regulation, 19% said there is the right amount, and 40% said there is "too little." (down 5 percentage points from 2003). Among those surveyed, 85% thought regulators should ensure that GM foods are safe before they come to market, and 81% believed the FDA should approve the safety of GM foods before they come to market, even if there would be "substantial delays" (Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology 2004).


Nine out of 10 Americans support the labeling of GM food and GM ingredients in processed foods (Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology 2004). Although the same overwhelming support for labeling was found in a 2002 survey, only half of the respondents (53%) said they would actually take the time to look for foods labeled as not being genetically modified, and less than half (45%) said they were willing to pay more for foods that had not been genetically modified (Hallman et al. 2002).

Public Trust in Scientists and Others

In the United States, scientists are considered more trustworthy than any other group involved in biotechnology issues such as GM foods. In a recent survey, scientists received more votes of confidence than medical professionals, consumer advocacy organizations, environmental organizations, universities, and farmers. Ranked lowest in trustworthiness were the federal government, media sources, industry, and (in last place) grocery stores. However, because scientists are likely to be employed by groups on the list, these data have been interpreted to indicate that survey respondents probably distinguish between scientists and the organizations that may employ them (Lang 2004) and seem to deem scientists more trustworthy than the organizations (Hallman, Hebden, and Cuite, 2004).

Another recent survey also revealed confidence in the scientists involved in biotechnology research. When asked how confident they were that GM food research is in safe hands, two-thirds of respondents in both the United States and Canada assigned a rating of 4 or 5 (on a 5-point scale, 5 being the highest rating) (Canadian Biotechnology Secretariat 2005). (For more about the views of Americans and Canadians on biotechnology research, see sidebar "Americans and Canadians Share Optimistic Attitudes Toward Science and Those Who Practice It.")[54]

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Human Cloning and Stem Cell Research

Americans overwhelmingly oppose human cloning but are more divided on the subject of medical research that uses stem cells from human embryos. Support for the latter has fluctuated, but in 2004, 53% of the public expressed support for embryonic stem cell research, whereas 36% were opposed.

Human Cloning

All recent U.S. surveys that measure public opinion on human cloning have yielded similar findings: about 4 out of 5 Americans say they are opposed, and most of those say they are strongly opposed. In one survey, 66% of respondents said they were strongly opposed to human cloning, 17% were somewhat opposed, and only 13% said they favored it (VCU Center for Public Policy 2004). In another survey, 77% answered "no" to the question, "do you think that research into reproductive cloning should be allowed." In contrast, 66% said that they thought therapeutic cloning should be allowed (Research!America 2005).

Opposition to human cloning seems to be based on moral objections, not safety concerns. Moreover, public opinion on this subject has held steadfast. In annual surveys conducted between 2001 and 2004, about 9 out of 10 respondents said that cloning humans was morally wrong (Lyons 2004a).

Cloning animals evoked a lesser degree of moral objection. In 2004, 64% of those surveyed found it morally objectionable, compared with 32% who did not. Like the statistics for human cloning, these numbers have held fairly constant since 2001 (Lyons 2004a).

People may have difficulty differentiating between human reproductive cloning and human therapeutic cloning.[55](Therapeutic cloning refers to the use of cloning technology in medical research to develop new treatments for diseases.) In 2004, only 8% of respondents described themselves as having a "very clear" understanding of the difference between human reproductive cloning and human therapeutic cloning; 26% were "somewhat clear," 34% were "not very clear," and 30% were "not at all clear." These statistics were almost identical to those in the previous year's survey. (VCU Center for Public Policy 2004).

Opposition to therapeutic cloning is not quite as strong as opposition to human cloning in general: 38% of respondents in the 2004 VCU survey were strongly opposed to therapeutic cloning, 18% were somewhat opposed, 16% strongly favored it, and 26% somewhat favored it. College graduates were somewhat less opposed than others.

According to the most recent Eurobarometer, "Europeans seem somewhat prepared to accept cloning animals and cloning human stem cells from embryos (in exceptional circumstances or under strict control) for the sake of human health." About a third (31%) of those surveyed answered "never" when asked if they approve "cloning animals such as monkeys or pigs for research into human diseases. Opposition was highest in Switzerland, Luxembourg, and the United Kingdom, and lowest in Spain, Belgium, Hungary, and Estonia. Less than a fourth (22%) of respondents gave the "never" response when asked about "cloning human stem cells from embryos to make cells and organs that can be transplanted into people with diseases." However, a majority (59%) of Europeans are opposed to "cloning human beings so that couples can have a baby even when one partner has a genetic disease." The highest levels of opposition were in Switzerland, Luxembourg, Iceland, and France (European Commission 2005b).

Stem Cell Research

Controversy over the federal government's role in funding embryonic stem cell research became a 2004 presidential campaign issue. In addition, several states have begun (or are considering) funding such research on their own. Four states—California, Connecticut, Illinois, and New Jersey—have allocated taxpayer funds. By far, the largest initiative is in California, where voters in 2004 approved spending $3 billion to establish the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine. California plans to spend $300 million annually during the next decade to support stem cell research.

Public opinion on stem cell research is more evenly divided than that on human cloning. However, the most recent data show an increase in public support for embryonic stem cell research between 2002 and 2004:

  • After falling from 48% in 2001 to 35% in 2002, the percentage of survey respondents favoring medical research that uses stem cells from human embryos rose to 47% in 2003 and 53% in 2004 (figure 7-18 figure.). The percentage strongly favoring this type of research showed a similar pattern, doubling from 12% in 2002 to 24% in 2004. At the same time, opposition declined from 51% in 2002 to 36% in 2004, and strong opposition declined from 29% to 22% (VCU Center for Public Policy 2004).
  • The percentage of respondents who said that "conducting stem cell research [is more important than] not destroying the potential life of human embryos involved in this research" increased from 43% in March 2002 to 52% in August 2004 to 56% in December 2004 (Pew Research Center for the People and the Press 2005).[56],

Other surveys have explored various dimensions of Americans' opinion about embryonic stem cell research, including morality, government restrictions on funding, correlations with religious beliefs and political conservatism, and comparative views of men and women.[57] These surveys show:

  • The percentage of respondents who believe that embryonic stem cell research is morally acceptable increased from 52% in 2002 to 60% in 2005. Among those surveyed, 11% thought there should be no restrictions on this type of research, 42% thought current restrictions should be eased, 24% chose "keep current restrictions," and 19% were opposed to all funding (Saad 2005).
  • Religious beliefs play a major role in shaping opinions on this issue. In 2004, 77% of survey respondents who said that religion was not important to them favored stem cell research, compared with 38% of those who said that religion provides a great deal of guidance for them (VCU Center for Public Policy 2004).[58]
  • Those who identified themselves as political conservatives were more likely than others to oppose stem cell research. For example, 44% of self-defined conservatives thought that conducting stem cell research was more important than reservations about destroying the potential life of human embryos, compared with 61% of moderates, and 77% of liberals (Pew Research Center for the People and the Press 2005).
  • Finally, men were more likely than women (47% versus 39%) to say that conducting stem cell research was more important than reservations about destroying the potential life of human embryos. Support for this type of research also varied by age, education, and income, with younger adults, those with more formal education, and those with higher family incomes more likely than others to indicate support for stem cell research (Pew Research Center for the People and the Press 2005).

Surveys in the United States and Canada found that attitudes about stem cell research were remarkably similar in the two countries. (See sidebar, "Americans' and Canadians' Attitudes Toward Stem Cell Research Are Not That Different.")

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Nanotechnology refers to the emerging technology of making extremely small components measured in nanometers (a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter). Though a relatively new area of research, nanotechnology is already having a major impact in many fields, including medicine, electronics, and chemistry, and it is already an important driver of innovation in manufacturing.

The science and policy communities are paying close attention to public reaction to nanotechnology-related issues. The media have recently begun to report on possible dangers and risks (e.g., that nanoparticles may be detrimental to human health), focusing attention on the adequacy of government regulation and oversight of this emerging field. Scientists fear that, as happened in Europe and elsewhere when GM foods were introduced, public opinion about nanotechnology could turn negative, potentially slowing research (Brown 2004).

Several surveys designed to gauge public opinion about nanotechnology have been undertaken recently. Findings from these surveys, summarized below, indicate that most of the public has never heard of nanotechnology, most think the benefits outweigh the risks, and views about government funding of nanotechnology research are mixed.


In one recent study, more than half of Americans surveyed said they were not very familiar (23%) or not at all familiar (35%) with nanotechnology. A similar percentage (59%) said they had not read, seen, or heard about issues involving nanotechnology research, and 73% said they had never discussed nanotechnology research with anyone. Responses were similar in Canada (Canadian Biotechnology Secretariat 2005).

In another survey, more than 80% of those polled said they had heard "little" or "nothing" about nanotechnology (Cobb and Macoubrie 2004). In a third study, about a quarter of the respondents said they had never heard of nanotechnology-even after the interviewer provided an explanation. Only 16% said they felt somewhat informed about nanotechnology and its economic impact (Scheufele 2005). In addition, 80% of Americans were unable to name a single leading nanotechnology company (Small Times 2004).

Perceived Benefits and Risks

Although nanotechnology may have numerous unknown social, economic, and environmental consequences, and although most Americans do not know much about it (Cobb and Macoubrie 2004), the majority hold generally positive views of it. When asked to rate nanotechnology's potential benefit to society on a scale of 1 to 5 (where 1 is no benefit and 5 is substantial benefit), nearly 9 out of 10 respondents (87%) assigned scores of 5 (32%), 4 (18%), or 3 (37%). Scores were even higher when respondents were asked about nanotechnology's economic benefits. More than 8 out of 10 assigned scores of 5 (42%) or 4 (42%). Canadians' responses to these questions were similar (Canadian Biotechnology Secretariat 2005).[59]

When given a list of five options specifying benefits from nanotechnology, a majority (57%) of survey respondents selected "new and better ways to detect and treat human diseases" as the most important, followed by "new and better ways to clean up the environment" (16%), "increased national security and defense capabilities" (12%), and ways to "improve human physical and metal abilities" (11%). Only 4% chose "cheaper, longer-lasting consumer products" as the most important benefit (Cobb and Macoubrie 2004).

When Americans and Canadians were asked to rate the risk nanotechnology may "pose for our society" on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest), about half (49%) of the American respondents chose 3, only 14% picked 4 or 5, and about 30% chose 1 or 2. The Canadian response was almost identical (Canadian Biotechnology Secretariat 2005).

In choosing which of five potential risks was the most important to avoid, more respondents (32%) picked "losing personal privacy to tiny new surveillance devices" than any other choice. Other respondents chose "a nanotechnology inspired arms race" (24%), "breathing nano-sized particles that accumulate in your body" (19%), "economic disruption caused by the loss of traditional jobs" (14%), and "uncontrollable spread of self-replicating nano-robots" (12%) (Cobb and Macoubrie 2004).[60]

Ethics and Morality

In general, although many Americans are unfamiliar with nanotechnology, most Americans believe it to be morally and ethically acceptable. On a scale of 1 to 5, 36% of those surveyed scored it 5 and 18% scored it 4, the highest levels of moral and ethical acceptability. Only 8% had the greatest reservations, scoring it 1 or 2. Canadians were somewhat more likely than Americans to question nanotechnology's moral and ethical acceptability (Canadian Biotechnology Secretariat 2005).

Government Regulation

Most Americans and Canadians also expressed confidence in the ability of their country's safety and regulatory approval systems to monitor developments in nanotechnology. About 7 out of 10 survey participants in both countries gave their governments scores of 4 or 5 (the highest levels of confidence), and another quarter of each group were moderately confident in their country's safety and regulatory approval systems (Canadian Biotechnology Secretariat 2005).

Survey participants in the United States and Canada were asked to choose one of five statements that best captured their views about nanotechnology. In the United States, 43% chose "I approve of nanotechnology, as long as the usual levels of government regulation and control are in place," compared with 35% of Canadians. The percentages were essentially reversed for the statement "I approve of nanotechnology if it is more tightly controlled and regulated," selected by 35% of Americans and 44% of Canadians. Less than 15% in each country chose "I do not approve of nanotechnology except under very special circumstances," and only 5% of Americans and 4% of Canadians said they did "not approve of nanotechnology under any circumstances" (Canadian Biotechnology Secretariat 2005).

Confidence in Scientists and Others

Both Americans and Canadians also have a high level of confidence in the scientists who are involved in nanotechnology research. Eight out of 10 (79%) of the respondents in each country indicated that nanotechnology "is in safe hands" by assigning the scientists scores of 4 and 5; another 16% in each country gave them a score of 3 (Canadian Biotechnology Secretariat 2005).

However, most Americans seem to be distrustful of business leaders in the nanotechnology industry and their ability and willingness to minimize potential risks to humans. Six out of 10 (60%) of those surveyed said they had "not much trust" in nanotechnology business leaders, less than 5% said they had "a lot" of trust, and 35% said they had "some" trust. The respondents who were less trusting were also more likely to think nanotechnology's risks were greater than its benefits (Cobb and Macoubrie 2004).

Government Funding of Research

Various surveys have produced mixed findings about public support for government funding of nanotechnology research, as summarized below:

  • In one survey, 42% favored increased funding for nanotechnology research, and 58% opposed it (Scheufele 2005).[61]
  • In another survey, 31% of Americans and 38% of Canadians said their government should be "actively involved" in nanotechnology research, about 45% in each country said "moderately involved," and 20% of Americans and 14% of Canadians said "not involved" (Canadian Biotechnology Secretariat 2005).
  • A third survey found that 60% of respondents agreed the government should increase current funding levels for nanotechnology research; 60% also agreed it is very important for state governments to get involved in nanoscience research funding (GolinHarris 2004).

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Confidence in the Leadership of the Science Community

Since 2002, more people have expressed confidence in the leadership of the scientific community than in any other profession except the military. Public confidence in the leadership of various professional communities has been tracked for nearly three decades. Participants in the General Social Survey (GSS) are asked whether they have a "great deal of confidence, only some confidence, or hardly any confidence at all" in the leadership of various professional communities (Davis, Smith, and Marsden 2005). In 2004, 43% said they had a great deal of confidence in the leadership of the scientific community, marking the second time in the history of the survey (the first was in 2002) that greater confidence was expressed in science than in medicine (figure 7-19 figure.; appendix table 7-21 Excel table.).[62]

In 2002 and 2004, the science community might have topped the GSS confidence rankings had events not prompted public focus on the military. In 2000, only 39% of the respondents said they had a great deal of confidence in the military; the number rose to 55% in 2002 and 59% in 2004. The events of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are likely contributors to the increase in public confidence in the military. A similar trend was seen in the early 1990s, when confidence in the military rose from 33% in 1990 to 60% in 1991 (at the time of the Gulf War); confidence in the military then dropped to 42% in 1993.

Most of the institutions measured in the GSS saw an increase in the public's confidence in their leadership between 2002 and 2004. This was particularly true for banks and financial institutions and organized religion. Exceptions were the U.S. Supreme Court (which saw a drop in confidence from 37% to 32% between 2002 and 2004), and the executive branch of the federal government (27% in 2004, after an unprecedented increase for that institution from 13% in 2000 to 27% in 2002).

The science community has ranked second or third in the GSS public confidence survey in every year since 1973. Although the vote of confidence for the science community has fluctuated somewhat over the years, it has hovered around 40%. In contrast, the medical profession, which has ranked first in most years, has seen its vote of confidence, once as high as 60% (in 1974), gradually erode. Public confidence in the medical profession was 37% in 2002 (a low) and 38% in 2004; it ranked third in both years.

The public's confidence in the leadership of the press (9% in 2004) and television (10%) was the lowest of all institutions. These ratings have changed little in the past 10 years.

Europeans also express a lot of confidence in scientists. When asked if scientists who work at universities or in industry (doing research or developing new products) have a positive or a negative effect on society, the overwhelming majority of respondents (more than 8 out of 10) said they had a positive effect (European Commission 2005b).[63] However, about three-fifths of Europeans agreed with the following statements: "Because of their knowledge, scientists have a power that makes them dangerous" and "Scientists put too little effort into informing the public about their work" (European Commission 2005a).

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Science Occupations

Most people do not encounter scientists in their daily lives. When asked if they personally knew any scientists, 82% of Americans surveyed said no (Research!America 2005).[64] In the United States and several Asian countries, surveys asked participants whether they agreed with the statement "most scientists want to work on things that will make life better for the average person." In the United States, 89% agreed with the statement in 2001, as did 85% of Chinese and 83% of Malaysian respondents. The level of agreement was lower in South Korea (77%) and Japan (60%).

Perceptions of science occupations can be assessed by examining the prestige that the public associates with them. In an August 2004 Harris poll (Harris Interactive 2004a), doctors and scientists received the highest prestige rankings out of 22 occupations. In fact, these were the only occupations seen by more than half of adults (52%) as having very great prestige. However, the 2004 number for scientists was down from that recorded in 2003 (57%), when scientist led all other occupations for the first time, with doctor ranking second at 52%. In 2004, fireman and teacher tied for third (48%), followed by military officer (47%), nurse (44%), police officer (40%), priest/minister/clergyman (32%), and member of Congress (31%) (table 7-9 table.).

The engineering profession generally falls in the middle of the prestige rankings. In 2004, engineering ranked 10th among the 22 occupations in the survey, with 29% of the public saying it had very great prestige-about the same level as 2003, but down from 34% in 2002 and 36% in 2001.

Some notable changes have taken place during the 27 years of Harris Interactive polls about the prestige of different professions and occupations. Among the 11 occupations included in the survey since it began in 1977, only teachers saw an improvement in their rating, from 29% in 1977 to 48% in 2004. In contrast, the rating for scientists fell 14 points, from 66% to 52%, and ratings for doctors and lawyers fell 9 and 18 points, respectively.

The public's perception of science occupations can be measured in other ways. When asked how they would feel if their son or daughter wanted to become a scientist, 80% of Americans responding to the 2001 NSF survey said they would be happy with that decision (18% said they would not care and 2% said they would be unhappy). Responses were the same for both sons and daughters.[65] In contrast, in South Korea, only 54% of those surveyed in 2004 said they would feel happy if their son wanted a career in science; 57% said the same about a daughter. In Russia, only 32% of those surveyed in 2003 said they would want their son or daughter to become a researcher (down from 41% in 1995). In contrast, the Chinese rated science second highest (after medicine) as the occupation they would most like for their children (figure 7-20 figure.).

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[32] The question wording was: "Have the benefits of scientific research outweighed the harmful results?"

[33] In the United States, agreement with this statement is positively related to education and level of family income (appendix table 7-17 Excel table.).

[34] Norway had the highest level of agreement with this statement (74%), followed by Poland (65%), Hungary (63%), Lithuania (63%), and Portugal (60%). The Netherlands (39%) and Slovenia (40%) had the lowest agreement rates, and Finland had the highest disagreement rate (30%) (European Commission 2005a).

[35] Another survey found similar (79%) support for government funding of scientific research in 2004 (Research! America 2005).

[36] In addition, 83% of Europeans agreed that "basic scientific research is essential for the development of new technologies" (European Commission 2001).

[37] According to an annual survey commissioned by the Association of American Medical Colleges, 41% of congressional staff surveyed said that they did not know how and where the NIH budget supports medical research. In another survey of voters conducted by the same organization, 40% said they had never heard of NIH; 31% said they had a favorable opinion of the agency. Many voters (47%) and congressional staffers (35%) erroneously believed that most medical research is carried out by private industry (McInturff and Harrington 2004).

[38] In Russia, 76% of those surveyed in 2003 thought that "funds allocated by the government for support of scientific research" were not sufficient, up from 65% recorded in 1997. In 2003, 9% said that such funds were "fairly sufficient," 1% said "more than sufficient," and 14% said they did not know (Gokhberg and Shuvalova 2004).

[39] According to a survey conducted in mid-2005, about three-fourths of Americans favor continuing the manned space shuttle program. Surprisingly, support for the shuttle program was even greater immediately after the loss of the Challenger in 1986 (80%) and the Columbia in 2003 (82%). Although a large majority of Americans support the program, and most give NASA's overall performance high marks, support for space exploration declines when respondents are reminded of the expense. In 2005, 58% of those surveyed opposed allocating government funds for a manned trip to Mars, slightly higher than the percentages recorded in 1999 and 1969 (Newport 2005).

[40] In recent years, few survey respondents (less than 5%) have mentioned the environment when asked to name the most important problem facing the country today. The story was quite different in the 1970s, after the first Earth Day celebration, when significantly higher percentages of survey participants mentioned the environment (Saad 2005).

[41] The Gallup researchers concluded that the "global warming disaster movie—The Day After Tomorrow—was the No. 6 top-grossing movie of the year... doesn't appear to have stirred up a great deal of alarm among Americans about global warming" (Saad 2005).

[42] In Europe, 89% of those surveyed agreed that "we have a duty to protect nature, even if this means limiting human progress." About half (51%) agreed that "exploiting nature may be unavoidable if humankind is to progress," and 43% agreed that "we have a right to exploit nature for the sake of human well being" (European Commission 2005b).

[43] In Europe, half of those surveyed agreed that "many high-tech products are just gadgets," indicating "negative opinion on technological developments linked to the economy." At least 60% of the citizens of Sweden, Norway, Germany, Cyprus, and Luxembourg agreed with the statement (European Commission 2005a).

[44] In Europe, the 2005 question was worded "for each of these, do you think it will have a positive, a negative or no effect on our way of life in the next 20 years?"

[45] In another series of surveys in the United States, almost half of those queried had heard or read "nothing at all" about genetic engineering or biotechnology; a little over a quarter had heard or read "not much." In addition, nearly two-thirds of those surveyed in 2004 reported that they had never discussed biotechnology, genetic engineering, or genetic modification with anyone (Hallman et al. 2004).

[46] Fears that have prompted consumers' concerns include the possible development of food allergies resulting from unknown gene combinations, increased resistance to antibiotics through ingestion of food with antibiotic-resistant genes, and potential toxicity from foods modified to produce pesticides.

[47] In a 2005 survey, 12% of Americans described themselves as being very familiar with GM food, 54% said they were somewhat familiar with it, 21% said not very, and 13% said that they were not at all familiar with it; statistics for Canadians were similar (Canadian Biotechnology Secretariat 2005).

[48] In January 2001, shortly after widespread media coverage of the Starlink incident (the discovery of unapproved GM corn in the food supply), 44% of those surveyed said they had heard some or a great deal about GM foods. Subsequently, without a similar story making frontpage headlines in more recent years, the level of awareness fell. In 2004, only 32% said they had heard some or a great deal about GM foods (Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology 2004). In addition, most Americans were unable to recall news stories about GM food (Hallman et al. 2004).

[49] Those who claimed to be aware that GM foods were available in their supermarkets were asked to estimate how many years the products have been available to consumers. The median guess—10 years—was accurate. However, many were confused about which products contained GM ingredients (Hallman et al 2004).

[50] For most of the questions, about half of the respondents chose the "unsure" option. For example, 40% of respondents correctly answered "false" to the statement "ordinary tomatoes do not contain genes while GM tomatoes do." However, 51% said they were unsure.

[51] More than half (54%) of Europeans surveyed answered "never" in response to a question asking if they approve "growing meat from cell cultures so that we don't have to slaughter farm animals." However, fewer respondents gave the same response to two other items: "developing genetically modified crops to increase the variety of regionally grown foods" (37%) and "developing genetically modified bacteria that could clean up the environment after environmental catastrophes" (19%) (European Commission 2005b).

[52] In the Pew Initiative study, those who felt positively toward GM food cited higher yields, food lasting longer, and benefits to developing countries as the major advantages. Those who were concerned were more likely to say that it was wrong to tamper with nature and were more likely to worry about long-term effects on health (Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology 2004).

[53] In another survey conducted in 2004, 83% of respondents said they knew "not too much" or "nothing at all" about the federal regulation of GM foods. These numbers were virtually unchanged from the previous years (Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology 2004).

[54] The 2005 Eurobarometer asked several questions about public perceptions of the relationship between policymakers and the field of science. About three-fourths of Europeans surveyed believed that politicians should rely more on the advice of expert scientists. Only about a third agreed that "research conducted by industry is well controlled and regulated" and that "there should be no limit to what science is allowed to investigate on." In addition, half of those surveyed agreed with two different statements: "if a new technology poses a risk that is not fully understood, the development of this technology should be stopped even if it offers clear benefits"; and "if we attach too much importance to risks that are not yet fully understood, we will miss out on technological progress" (European Commission 2005a).

[55] The questions used in the Gallup surveys did not differentiate between reproductive and therapeutic cloning (Lyons 2004a). According to the author, the results of an earlier (2002) survey (that asked about both reproductive and other types of cloning) "strongly suggest that respondents are thinking about cloning that results in the creation of a human being when they are simply asked for their views on 'human cloning.' The 2002 poll found higher support for more limited types of cloning, including 59% for cloning organs to be used in medical transplants and 51% for cloning human cells from adults to use in medical research."

[56] In the same survey, the percentage of respondents who said they had heard a lot about the issue of stem cell research increased from 27% in March 2002 to 47% in December 2004. Those who said they had heard a lot were more likely than others to say they supported stem cell research (Pew Research Center for the People and the Press 2005).

[57] Other surveys provide comparisons with Canadian and British public opinion on embryonic stem cell research. In 2004, 54% of Americans said that embryonic stem cell research was morally acceptable, compared with 61% of Canadians and 57% of the residents of Great Britain. In all three countries, those who said that religion was very important in their daily lives were less likely to believe that stem cell research was morally acceptable than were those who said religion was "fairly important" or "not very important" in their daily lives (Lyons 2004b). For more comparisons between Americans and Canadians on this issue, see sidebar "Americans' and Canadians' Attitudes Toward Stem Cell Research Are Not That Different."

[58] An analysis of the VCU data found that religion might act as a "perceptual screen" on this issue. According to the analysis, for most Americans, the more they reported hearing, reading, or seeing about the issue, the greater their support for embryonic stem cell research. However, among highly religious Americans, regardless of how much more they reported hearing, reading, or seeing about stem cell research, their opinions remained relatively unchanged, which suggests that very religious people may only pay attention to arguments about the issue that confirm their initial reservations (Nisbet 2005).

[59] In another survey, about the same number of respondents said that nanotechnology would produce more benefits than risks (40%) and that risks and benefits would be about equal (38%). Only 22% predicted that risks would outweigh benefits (Cobb and Macoubrie 2004). Another researcher found that survey respondents who were aware of nanotechnology held significantly more optimistic views of its potential benefits than those who were not aware of it, but no relationship between factual knowledge about nanotechnology and optimism about its benefits (Scheufele 2005.).

[60] The "nano-robot" response is a scenario from Prey, a novel by Michael Crichton.

[61] Those who were aware of nanotechnology were more likely than others to express support for it. However, factual knowledge about nanotechnology does not seem to have a significant effect on attitudes toward nanotechnology in general, support for increased funding, or risk/benefit perceptions. Nearly half (49%) of the respondents who were aware of nanotechnology said they supported increased financial support for research, compared with only 22% of the unaware group (Scheufele 2005).

[62] In China and South Korea, scientists are accorded the highest level of prestige, and medical doctors are ranked second in both countries. In Russia, scientists ranked eighth in terms of the most respected occupations, after lawyer, businessman, politician, programmer, skilled worker, doctor, and teacher. Engineering ranked fourteenth, lower than journalist, artist/actor/writer, tradesman, farmer, and soldier.

[63] When the Eurobarometer survey asked "for each of these different people and groups involved in science and technology, do you think that what they do has a positive or a negative effect on society," the following percentages of positive responses were obtained: scientists in university (88%), television and radio reporting on science and technology (86%), consumer organizations testing new products (86%), scientists in industry doing research (85%), newspapers and magazines reporting on science and technology (83%), industry developing new products (81%), environmental groups campaigning on issues related to science and technology (80%), citizens who get involved in debates about science and technology (78%), public authorities assessing the risks that may come from new technologies (78%), animal rights groups campaigning about the treatment of animals (77%), the European Commission regulating science and technology for all European Union countries (75%), and public authorities regulating science and technology (73%) (European Commission 2005b).

[64] The 18% who said they did know a scientist were then asked what fields those scientists worked in. Biotechnology/medical/pharmaceutical got the highest number of responses (22%), followed by biology/anatomy/genetics/microbiology (14%), chemistry (11%), physics/nuclear physics (11%), environmental science (5%), and engineering/rocket science (5%); 31% responded "other fields" (Research!America 2005).

[65] In Europe, three-fourths of those surveyed agreed that "girls and young women should be further encouraged to take up studies and careers in science"; only 7% held the opposite viewpoint. The highest rates of agreement were in Malta, Ireland, Portugal, Sweden, Cyprus, Poland, Iceland, and Norway, and the lowest were in Latvia and the Czech Republic (European Commission 2005b).

National Science Board.
National Science Board.