AAAS and Pew poll confirms differing opinions between public and scientists on science-related issues.

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If you haven’t already seen the public and scientist opinion poll put out yesterday by AAAS and Pew Research Center, its a must see (the featured tweet above is satire based on a CauseScience hashtag)! If you’ve been paying attention, there isn’t anything overly surprising – scientists and the general public have differing views on many science-related issues. A nice summary of the poll is here at NBCNews.com. Some major highlights of the in-depth poll include:

– Should animals be used in research? 89 percent of the scientists said yes, as opposed to 47 percent of the public.

– Is it safe to eat foods grown with pesticides? 68 percent of the scientists agreed, compared with 28 percent of the public.

– Is climate change caused mostly by human activity? 87 percent yes from the scientists, 50 percent yes from the public.

– Have humans evolved over time? 98 percent yes from the scientists, 65 percent yes from the public.

– Should more offshore oil drilling be allowed? 32 percent yes from the scientists, 52 percent yes from the public.

– Should more nuclear power plants be built? 65 percent yes from the scientists, 45 percent yes from the public.

– Should parents be allowed to decide not to have their children vaccinated? 13 percent yes from the scientists, 30 percent yes from the public.

In good news from the poll:

Science holds an esteemed place among citizens and professionals. Americans recognize the accomplishments of scientists in key fields and, despite considerable dispute about the role of government in other realms, there is broad public support for government investment in scientific research.

Public views of scientists depends on warmth of researcher as much as competence of researcher #science

fiske

A new Perspective piece by Susan Fiske and Cydney Dupree in PNAS examines how the the public views scientists in comparison with other professions. Phys.org has a news article about the report with some great quotes from Fiske, the author. The authors find that ‘… while Americans view scientists as competent, they are not entirely trusted. This may be because they are not perceived to be friendly or warm. In particular, Americans seem wary of researchers seeking grant funding and do not trust scientists pushing persuasive agendas. Instead, the public leans toward impartiality.’

The PNAS article specifically uses climate science as an example:

This Perspectives article begins with climate science as an example of potential misunderstanding between scientists and their audience, and then examines the science of communicator credibility more generally, showing that trust is a critical factor.

The article concludes that science communication must involve more than trying to sway the audience with expertise and competence.

Science communication, like other communication, needs to convey communicator warmth/trustworthiness as well as competence/expertise, to be credible.

Our illustrative data are limited by not being a representative sample. Nevertheless, they suggest that scientists may have the respect, but not necessarily the trust of the public. This gap can be filled, we suggest, by showing concern for humanity and the environment. Rather than persuading, we and our audiences are better served by discussing, teaching, and sharing information, to convey trustworthy intentions.

Previous CauseScience posts have mentioned that the way science is communicated is extremely important in the view the public has of that science. Including a post on a History Lesson on communicating science and a post on science and society.