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Attitudes Toward Science and Scientists

Patterns of Interest and Knowledge
Attitudes Toward Science
Participation in science and engineering is affected by the views held by thepublic. Most of the data on participation in science and engineering are providedby objective measures such as the successful completion of a course of study,performance on a test, or employment in a particular type of job. Fewer data havebeen available on the views of different groups within the population towardscience.
Attitudinal surveys in the United States over the past 20 years have documentedsustained high levels of interest in, and widespread support for, science andscientists (National Science Board 1994, ch. 7). At least four out of fiveAmerican adults feel that science has a positive effect on their lives and trustthe motives of scientists. It has also been established that attitudes towardscience and interest in science are strongly and positively related to levels ofeducation.
Prior to 1993 the adult U.S. population had not been appropriately sampled topermit reliable comparisons across racial/ethnic groups on these attitudinal andvaluative measures. A 1993 study of U.S. adult attitudes toward science andscientists oversampled the black and Hispanic adult populations, and within theseminority groups, it oversampled adults who have completed the baccalaureate. [4] The survey found both similarities and differences across the black, Hispanic, andwhite [5] subpopulations.

Patterns of Interest and KnowledgeUp arrow

The study asked respondents about their level of interest in a number of topicalissues that may appear in the news. (See figure 1-6.) Respondents from thegeneral adult population have traditionally indicated high levels of interest inschool, medical, and economic issues and somewhat lower levels of interest inscientific and technological issues. These patterns did not change significantlywhen the adult population holding bachelor's degrees was stratified by race andethnicity. However, a few notable patterns emerged:
Local school issues are particularly salient to black college graduates;college-educated Hispanics are also "very interested" in these issues;
Hispanic adults with bachelor's degrees are particularly interested in issuesconcerning environmental pollution and showed more interest in scientificdiscoveries than blacks or whites;
Both blacks and Hispanics with college degrees expressed greater interest ininformation about health than whites.

Figure 1-6

In terms of self-ratings of knowledge about these same issue sets, blacks ratedthemselves more knowledgeable about local school issues than did white or Hispanicrespondents. (See appendix table 1-8.) Between one-fourth and one-third of eachpopulation group rated their knowledge of scientific discoveries and newtechnologies as poor.

Attitudes Toward ScienceUp arrow

Responses confirmed that education is related to attitudes toward science for bothblacks and Hispanics as well as for whites: the more years of formal schooling ofthe respondents, the more highly they rated the benefits of scientific research.(See figure 1-7.) However, the overall regard for scientific research is not ashigh among these educated minority populations as among whites. [6] Twelve percentof both minorities view the results of scientific research negatively, in contrastwith 5 percent of other races. (See appendix table 1-9.)

Figure 1-7

Some gender differences in assessments of science are also evident in all three ofthe population groups. (See figure 1-8.) Black women with a bachelor's or higherdegree, for example, less often agree that science and technology are making theirlives "healthier, easier, and more comfortable" than do black men, whose responsepatterns are the same as those of white men. Women of all three groups are morelikely to express support for antivivisectionist positions; even so, more womensupport research on animals than oppose it. (See appendix table 1-10.)

Figure 1-8

On some issues, men and women of a particular racial/ethnic group shared similarviews; on other issues, they diverged. For example, among persons withbaccalaureates, a majority of black men and women and Hispanic men were much morelikely to agree with the statement, "We depend too much on science and not enoughon faith." (See appendix table 1-10.) Black and white women tend to agree withthis statement in larger proportions than men, but the gender effect amongHispanics was in the opposite direction. Only 37 percent of Hispanic women,versus 50 percent of men, agreed with the statement.

4. The study, designed to develop comparisons across racial/ethnicpopulations, was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) incollaboration with NSF. For a technical description of the study and a thoroughpresentation of its findings, see National Institutes of Health 1994(forthcoming). Up arrow

5. "White," in this discussion, refers to all respondents not identifyingthemselves as African or Hispanic American. Therefore, it includes Asians, whites,and all other groups. Up arrow

6. For an exact wording of the question and response categories, see appendixtable 1-8. This was one of the most complex questions in the study and responseswere probed for the degree of feeling (e.g., "strongly" or "only slightly"beneficial). Up arrow

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