Study shows underlying pattern in public views about science

Survey_wPen_LowRes_blogA recent Pew Research study looked into individuals’ knowledge regarding a wide variety of scientific topics and concluded that science knowledge is a “significant factor” in whether or not he or she believes in a number of different controversial topics. For example, the study found that adults who are more “science literate” than their peers are also more comfortable eating genetically modified (GM) foods, foods grown with pesticides, and using bioengineered organs for human transplant, among other things.

The report states, however, that science knowledge is not the only sizable influence on views about these topics, however. Gender differences are also substantial, with men more likely to consider both GM foods and foods grown with pesticides to be safe.

Views about the use of animals in scientific research and opinions about allowing access to experimental drug treatments before clinical trials have shown them to be safe and effective, are additional examples the study found to have noteworthy differences occur among those with different levels of science knowledge.

There also are consistent differences among those with different levels of education and science knowledge on issues related to government funding for science. For example, postgraduate degree holders were found to be particularly likely to see benefits from government investments in basic science research and in engineering and technology.

Those with more science knowledge, regardless of educational background, express more support for government funding in science, engineering and technology. However, both education and science knowledge are statistically independent predictors of views about government spending in these areas, the report states.

Similarly, those with more education are especially likely to consider government spending on the space station a good investment for the country. Those with more education, especially those with a postgraduate degree, tend to consider government funding (as opposed to solely private investment) essential for scientific progress.

The study, however, also found a host of other science-related topics when education played a more modest or not statistically significant role in an individual’s option. These include views about:

  • The appropriateness of genetic modifications for the purpose of either increasing a baby’s intelligence or to reduce a baby’s risk of serious diseases.
  • Whether childhood vaccines should be required, or a matter of parental choice, and whether they are generally safe for healthy children.
  • Whether the growing world population will be a major problem from strains on food and resources, or not a major problem because we will find ways to stretch resources.

For more information and to read the full report, click here.

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