US Perceptions of Science
The vast majority of Americans have consistently seen scientists as among the most trustworthy professions for decades, while reviewers and readers or viewers of books and documentaries about science appreciate well-supported facts, and really value linking those facts with more personal or relatable aspects of life.
Survey and Study Data
- Americans' trust in scientists is almost on par (slightly higher) than their trust in the military. More than double the amount of Americans trust scientists compared to elected officials.
- Some 91% of Democrats have confidence in scientists, compared to 82% of Republicans, or people who lean Republican.
- Only two in ten Americans believe that scientists are transparent about conflicts of interest with industry.
- Americans trust science practitioners (those who directly provide treatment or help to the public) more than researchers working in the same field. For example, 47% say dietitians provide "fair and accurate information about their recommendations" all or most of the time, compared to 24% for nutrition scientists discussing their research.
- Some 70% of Americans trust scientists to conduct research that is in the best interests of humanity, but only 51% trust them to report findings even if they go against the sponsor of the research.
- Black people and Hispanics are more likely to say scientific misconduct is a big problem. Some 71% of Black Americans say misconduct by medical doctors, for example, is a very/moderately big problem, compared with 43% of whites.
- Trust in the leaders of scientific institutions has remained consistent since the early 1970s, with 40% of respondents to the General Social Survey saying they had a "great deal of confidence" in such people. Similarly, Harris Polls showed that, over the last two decades, roughly 75% of Americans would trust scientists to tell them the truth.
- When people hear the word science, or versions of it (like scientific research), they tend to think more of health, medicine, and medical research than of laboratories, white coats, and diseases.
- And 71% of Americans believe that funding for science pays off in the long run.
- 77% strongly or somewhat agree that public policies should be based on science.
- Six in ten Americans trust the scientific method — that is, 63% believe it produces accurate results. A third however, believe it can be used to produce any results the scientist wants.
- 58% of Americans believe it is extremely important that the US be a global leader in health research.
- Seven in ten Americans think election candidates should have a science adviser, and 90% believe it is very or somewhat important that elected officials listen to advice from scientists.
- 60% of people believe that public investment into mental health research is insufficient.
- And 82% expect future scientific developments to bring benefits to society.
Books and Documentaries
The War on Science
- CBS News released this short documentary earlier this year. It argues that in an "age of misinformation" evidence-based science is being attacked. It discuses how schools are avoiding scientific theories and how conspiracy theories are taking off on the Internet.
- "Thank you CBS for pursuing this piece. I think that what was said in the end is the key to all of this. If trust on everything is lost, then we’re on out own. How are we losing trust? By blindly and aggressively supporting absurdity," commented one viewer.
- "Far too many liars supporting so called science, just like the “journalist” presenting (sic)," said another, while another said, "Nothing wrong with science its scientism we have a problem with." (Note: scientism is the "excessive belief in the power of scientific knowledge and techniques.")
- Science Fair is an award-winning documentary about teenagers from around the world competing at The International Science and Engineering Fair, and it was released at the end of 2018.
- Reviewers associate the science competition with "making the greatest contribution to humanity."
- A Guardian review used phrases like "in pursuit of excellence," and commented " It is refreshing to watch something unashamedly concerned with excellence and objectivity, a contest that cannot be won by the person who shouts loudest about it being rigged or culturally biased, and it is also refreshing to see that scientists are not being belittled as “nerds”, or encouraged to humblebrag themselves by using this term."
- Viewers used terms like "heroes," "celebration of intellect," and said "Turns out science is pretty cool after all."
The First Cell
- This book by New York-based author Azra Raza was Amazon's pick for best science book of 2019. It is about how "medicine and our society (mis)treats cancer" and explores cancer from scientific, medical, cultural, and personal angles.
- Publisher's weekly saw the value of the personal to science, commenting, "Raza's deeply personal work brings understanding and empathy to the fore in a way that a purely scientific explication never could."
- Other readers also really valued the linking of scientific facts with personal narratives. One commented, "It is a scientific argument persuasively and eloquently made through detailed explanations of the relevant science accompanied by the poignant stories of a number of patients under the author's care, including her own husband who eventually died of the disease."
How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems
- This book, published late last year, was written by Randall Munroe, and American and former NASA roboticist who left the agency to draw comics full time. It combines humor with science to teach about the universe's complexities and to link every day life with science.
- Reviewers saw the book as appropriate for those who appreciate the madness in science — for the "nerds" and "armchair scientists." They praised it for being "mentally stimulating" and thought-provoking.
- For NPR, the book's, and science's weirdness is cast in a positive light, "...he reveals a lot about science and why the real world is sometimes even weirder than we expect."
- "Embedded in these solutions, however, is solid scientific, engineering, and experimental understanding . . . [for] anyone who appreciates science-based, but Rube Goldberg–esque, solutions to life’s problems," wrote Science Magazine.
The Most Unknown
- This 2018 documentary, available on Netflix, sees nine scientists from different disciplines share ideas about existential questions.
- A New Yorker review found it positive that normal viewers would be able to comprehend the documentary, and mentioned that "We ... might quietly rage to ourselves if we happen to remember that science has become politically controversial."
- A skeptical viewer, Raul Soto, commenting through Google's rating system, said (sic), "I came to the conclusion long time ago that most scientists just sell dreams. One could even argue that it is a good way to make sure you have money coming your way for years to come. When I heard this phisicist answer the question about what dark matter was, I new I am not wrong. He said: "We don't know." And then added, "...some kind of new particle which we haven't descoverd, yet." Then the interviewer says "So the hypothesis is that dark matter is out there because it's consistent with all our observations." Observation of something they haven't discovered yet? This seemed to me science fiction."