Vast opinion differences between scientists, US public

Agence France-Presse

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Vast opinion differences between scientists, US public
The largest opinion gap found in the study is whether genetically modified foods are safe to eat or not. Meanwhile, the smallest gap for the study is whether the International Space Station was a good investment

WASHINGTON DC, USA – Average Americans hold vastly different opinions than scientists about animal experiments, climate change, genetically modified foods and offshore oil drilling, researchers said Thursday, January 29.

The largest opinion gap found in the study, published in the US journal Science, was on whether genetically modified foods are safe to eat or not.

Eighty-eight percent of scientists surveyed said GMO foods are generally safe to eat, compared to 37 percent of the public.

When it came to the use of animals in research, 50% of Americans oppose the practice, while 89% of scientists favor it.

Another divide was seen in offshore drilling — 52% of citizens favored more of it, compared to 32% of scientists.

Although the scientific community considers that there is a vast consensus among experts that climate change is real and it is human-driven, the public was not so sure.

Asked if there was a scientific consensus on climate change, 57% of the public said scientists are “generally in agreement that the earth is getting warmer due to human activity,” and 37% said scientists do not agree.

The study was led by the Pew Research Center in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The survey was given by phone to some 2,000 adults nationwide, and online from to some 3,700 scientists who are members of AAAS.

The margin of error was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.  

Of the 13 issues examined, the closest agreement was seen on the issue of whether the International Space Station has been a good investment for the United States — 64 percent of the public and 68 percent of AAAS scientists said yes.

“Science is a huge, sprawling cluster of subjects. We knew from the 2009 Pew Research Center study that there could be differences between the public and scientists on at least some issues. But we were surprised by the size of those differences and how often they occur,” said Cary Funk, lead author of the report and associate director of science research at Pew Research Center.

Both scientists and the public tended to agree that  science, technology, engineering and math education (STEM) in America’s elementary and secondary schools is not performing well. 

“Only 16% of AAAS scientists and 29% of the general public rank US K-12 STEM education as above average or the best in the world,” said the study.

Three quarters of AAAS scientists said too little STEM education was a “major factor in the public’s limited knowledge about science.” –

Researchers in a discussion image from Shutterstock.

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