Global Issues: Scientists vs. Public Opinion

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Collectively, scientists are our biggest thinkers, our problem solvers, the most logical among us, so let’s look at how their views on some of the most important issues facing humanity compare to the general public’s feelings about those same issues, using data from surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center.

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Scientists overwhelmingly agree that the earth is getting warmer mostly because of human activity. But the less knowledgeable general public is still only about 50-50 on that one, despite all the conclusive evidence.

Offshore Oil | Scientists vs. The Public
52% of the general public wants to expand offshore drilling for oil and gas, compared to 32% of American Association of the Advancement of Science members.

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The biggest gap we see in this entire survey is that 88% of scientists think it’s safe to eat genetically modified foods, whereas just 37% of U.S. adults overall think so.

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Two-thirds of scientists also think it’s safe to eat foods grown with pesticides, compared to only 28% of the overall public.

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When it comes to space, everyone feels the International Space Station has been a good investment for the United States, with just a small 4% gap in thinking on that issue.

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But when it comes to manned missions, scientists understand that astronauts are a thing of the past, and we should be relying mostly on high tech tools like powerful telescopes, machines, and robots, like the Curiosity Rover, to explore space in the future.

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Both scientists and the general public agree that fracking for natural gas is a bad idea, probably because of unknown side-effects like drinking water contamination and earthquakes.

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Scientists are 2-to-1 in favor of building more nuclear power plants to serve as a bridge between today’s fossil fuels and tomorrow’s clean, green, renewable power sources. But the public has been scared off by headline grabbing nuclear accidents like Three Mile island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.

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Scientists are also a little more heavily in favor of using biofuels to replace gasoline, though both groups overwhelmingly support that effort to go green.

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Of course, scientists appreciate the value of using animals in research, but it’s surprising  to learn that less than half the public thinks it’s worth it, despite all the wonderful things testing on mice, rats, monkeys and other animals have given us.

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The general public also does not understand how challenging the growing world population will be for humanity, while scientists get that it’s going to cause major problems.

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And lastly, one of the biggest gaps is on evolution, where 98% of scientists have the education to grasp that life on earth has evolved over time, but sadly, only 65% of American adults can comprehend that concept.

America’s challenge is to get the general public’s numbers closer to those of our scientists, which would represent progress in our effort to create a more educated population.

That’s my biggest takeaway from the data. What’s yours?

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