More than ever, scientific and technological innovations touch every aspect of our lives and influence the choices we make in a wide variety of areas. A 2015 study by the Pew Research Center revealed that most Americans have a positive view of science and of the accomplishments of scientists. But, despite broadly similar views about the place of science in the country, there were large differences between the general public and scientist across a number of important issues, including genetically modified foods, vaccine safety and climate change.
Two years ago, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences launched The Public Face of Science, an initiative whose objective is to better understand the complex relationship between scientists and the public in America. A few weeks ago, the Academy released Perceptions of Science in America, the first in a series of reports from the Public Face of Science initiative. The report aims to analyze the public’s perception of scientists, explore how opinions vary among different populations, and shed light on how public opinions are shaped. Its analysis is based on survey data from multiple sources, including the Pew Research Center, the National Science Board Science and Engineering Indicators, the National Opinion Research Center, Research!America and ScienceCounts.
What do we mean by science? “The term science encompasses a range of disciplines in the physical, social, and life sciences, along with applied fields, such as engineering and medicine,” notes the report. “Science can be defined as ‘the use of evidence to construct testable explanations and predictions of natural, as well as the knowledge generated through this process.’” But, one must keep in mind that the word science is interpreted differently by different individuals, - e.g., medical treatments, technological advances, fundamental research. “When interpreting the available survey data, it is important to consider the range of responses a question might prompt.”