Chapter 7 | Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding
Interest, Information Sources, and Involvement
About 4 out of 10 Americans say they are “very interested” in new scientific discoveries, and 6 out of 10 Americans say they are “very interested” in new medical discoveries.
- Other science-related issues also interest many Americans, with 4 in 10 interested in environmental pollution and in the use of new inventions and technologies.
The Internet continues to grow as Americans’ primary source for science news and information seeking.
- The Internet has become Americans’ primary source of science and technology (S&T) information, with more than 5 in 10 Americans citing it as their primary source in 2016, compared with about 1 in 10 in 2001.
- Television and newspapers continued to be used less often as sources of S&T news and information in 2016.
Americans' attendance at traditional informal science sites is down or stable in recent years.
- About 5 in 10 Americans said they had visited a zoo or aquarium in 2016, similar to 2012 but down from nearly 6 in 10 in 2001.
- Smaller percentages of Americans, about 3 in 10, said they had visited a natural history museum in 2016 compared to previous years, and a similar proportion said they had visited an S&T center.
Public Knowledge about S&T
Americans correctly answered an average of 5.6 of 9 factual knowledge questions in 2016, a score similar to those in recent years.
- Americans with more formal education tend to provide a greater number of correct answers on science knowledge questions.
- About half of Americans agreed that human beings “developed from earlier species of animals,” the highest percentage seen for this question since 2001. Younger generations are more likely to answer the evolution question correctly.
About 6 in 10 Americans continue to correctly answer two multiple-choice questions dealing with probability in the context of medical treatment.
- About half of Americans could describe the best way to conduct a drug trial.
- About 3 in 10 Americans said they had a clear understanding of what is meant by a “scientific study” in 2016.
Public Attitudes about S&T in General
Public support for science appears to be stable. Americans continue to perceive far more benefits than harms from science and want government to fund scientific research.
- Most Americans, about 7 in 10, say they believe the benefits from science are greater than the harms, and almost all agree that S&T will create more opportunities for future generations.
- About half of Americans express concern that science is making life “change too fast.” This is similar to past highs.
- More than 8 in 10 Americans continue to say the government should fund basic scientific research, and about 4 in 10 continue to say we are spending “too little” to support such research.
Americans are more likely to have “a great deal of confidence” in leaders of the scientific community than in leaders of any group except the military.
- About 4 in 10 Americans express high levels of confidence in the scientific community, and more than 9 in 10 agree that scientists are helping to solve challenging problems facing the world.
- Since 2001, the percentage of Americans “strongly” agreeing that scientists are solving problems has risen from fewer than 2 in 10 Americans to almost 3 in 10.
- Although the medical community remains the third most respected group in America, the percentage of respondents who express “a great deal of confidence” in it has decreased (alongside confidence in most other institutions) since the 1970s and is now at a low of 36%.