Overview  Survey Design  Survey Quality Measures  Trend Data  Availability of Data

Overview (2008 survey cycle) Top of Page.

The National Science Foundation regularly collects nationally representative data about public attitudes toward and understanding of science and technology (S&T). NSF has changed its means of collecting these data over time. Since 2006, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), a division of NSF, has funded an S&T module on the biennial General Social Survey (GSS) (http://gss.norc.org/). The GSS is a nationally representative, face-to-face survey covering a broad range of behavior and attitudes conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago.

Until 2001 data were collected by telephone though a single-purpose Survey of Public Attitudes Toward and Understanding of Science and Technology. In 2004 NSF placed S&T questions on the University of Michigan Survey of Consumer Attitudes, also conducted by telephone. The Consumer Attitudes survey included questions on topics other than S&T.

Information on the 2010 and 2012 GSS surveys, including their questions related to science and technology, can be found at http://gss.norc.org.

a. Purpose

Researchers and government officials—particularly those responsible for scientific research and education—use data collected from the U.S. adult population to monitor public knowledge of and attitudes toward a variety of science-related issues and topics. The GSS S&T module combines questions that have been asked on previous NCSES surveys with new questions, many of which probe different aspects of the cultural authority of science. Data on the U.S. public's views and knowledge of S&T have been collected for NSF since 1972, and time trends beginning with 1979 can be constructed for many variables. Other countries have conducted similar surveys, facilitating international comparisons.

b. Respondents

Randomly selected English or Spanish speaking persons age 18 or over, living in noninstitutional arrangements within the United States, April to September 2008.

c. Key variables

The 2008 GSS S&T module included questions on the following topics:

The 2008 GSS also collected a wealth of demographic, behavioral, and attitudinal data that can be used in analysis of the data collected by the NCSES-sponsored S&T module.

2. Survey Design Top of Page.

a. Target population

The 2008 GSS target population was all English or Spanish speaking persons age 18 or over living in noninstitutional arrangements in the United States. (See http://gss.norc.org/ for more detail.)

b. Sample frame and design

The 2008 GSS was a national area probability sample of noninstitutionalized adults. The sampling frame was based on the 2000 Census. The 2008 GSS S&T module questions were asked of approximately 1,500 randomly selected adults age 18 or older residing in the United States.

c. Data collection techniques

GSS interviews mainly are conducted face-to-face. S&T module questions were administered to 1,505 people in 2008. A similar module will be included in the 2010 GSS.

The 2006 GSS was the first to have a Spanish language version, using bilingual interviewers. In 2008 all sections were translated to and administered in Spanish.

d. Estimation techniques

Access to the GSS data and documentation are available through a variety of sources on the Internet. The data set includes weights. See http://gss.norc.org/ for more detail.

3. Survey Quality Measures Top of Page.

a. Sampling variability

The 2008 GSS is a full probability sample. Because of survey nonresponse, sampling variation, and various other factors, the GSS sample does deviate from known population figures for some variables. The GSS does not calculate any post-stratification weights to adjust for such differences. See http://gss.norc.org/ for more detail.

b. Coverage

The 2008 GSS likely underrepresented males. See http://gss.norc.org/ for more detail.

c. Nonresponse

The overall response rate for the 2008 GSS was 70%. For more detail, see the 2008 GSS Codebook (Appendix A), available at http://www.norc.org/GSS+Website/Documentation/.

d. Measurement

The 2008 GSS was the 27th fielding of the survey. The questionnaire contained a standard core of demographic and attitudinal variables, plus certain topics of special interest called "topical modules." The GSS incorporates methodological experiments each year, involving question wording, context effects, uses of different types of responses, random probes, and other assessments of validity and reliability.

Since 1985 the GSS has taken part in the International Social Survey Program (ISSP), a consortium of social scientists from 44 countries around the world. The ISSP asks an identical battery of questions in all countries; the U.S. version of these questions is incorporated into the GSS. See http://gss.norc.org/ for more detail.

4. Trend Data Top of Page.

Science and Engineering Indicators has included information on public attitudes toward science and technology in every biennial edition since 1972 (except 1978). A significant restructuring of the survey was undertaken in 1979, which has provided the framework for subsequent surveys. Time trends for many of the variables can be constructed for the years 1979, 1981, 1985, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2006, and 2008.

5. Availability of Data Top of Page.

a. Publications

Science and Engineering Indicators, available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/indicators/, has included information on public attitudes toward science and technology in every biennial edition since 1972 (except 1978).

b. Electronic access

Data from the 2008 General Social Survey are available on the National Opinion Research Center web site. A complete data file of the NCSES public knowledge and attitudes data from 1979-2004 is available on CD. Contact Robert Bell to request a data CD.

A data file covering responses to core questions from the eleven survey cycles conducted from 1979 through 2001 has been compiled and is available at the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) archive and at the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research.

c. Contact for more information

For more information about this survey, please contact

Robert Bell
Program Director
Science and Engineering Indicators Program
National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics
(703) 292-4977