Study Finds Scientists, Public Differ on Key Issues

Scientist discussion in labA Pew Research Center survey on key public health issues suggests significant differences of opinion between scientists and the public. In many cases, these differences are also partisan, with liberals significantly more likely than conservatives to accept scientific arguments for human evolution, for example. In spite of these differences, 79% of adults still say they believe science improves lives, health care, food quality, and the environment.

Differences Between Mainstream Science and Public Opinion

The survey asked about a wide variety of scientific issues, ranging from the use of animals in scientific experiments to the safety of vaccines. Some of the findings include:

  • Most Americans (57%) believe genetically modified foods are unsafe, but 88% of scientists think these foods are safe.
  • Half of Americans believe human activity is contributing to global warming, compared to 87% of scientists. Seventy percent of Hispanics accept global warming as fact, compared to just 44% of non-Hispanic whites. Just 46% of Americans believe that global warming is a serious problem.
  • While only 59% of non-scientist respondents believe that a population boom will become a problem, 82% of scientists are concerned about overpopulation.
  • Sixty-eight percent of Americans support mandating vaccines, compared to 86% of scientists.
  • Almost one-third of scientists don’t support more offshore gas and oil drilling, but 52% of Americans do. Both scientists and the general public are concerned about fracking, with only 31% of scientists supporting the practice, compared to 39% of Americans.
  • Sixty-five percent of scientists favor building more nuclear power plants, compared to just 45% of Americans.
  • Only 16% of scientists and 29% of Americans believe that science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) educational programs for American children are above average or among the best in the world.

Scientists who responded to the study also expressed concerns about whether public policy decisions are guided by science or politics. Only 15% of respondents believe that land use decisions are guided by science, with just 27% arguing that clean air and water regulations are informed by science. Forty-six percent argue that the best science plays a role in food safety regulations, but 58% are confident that scientific evidence plays a central role in regulations governing new medical and drug developments.


Americans, politics and science issues [PDF]. (2015, July 1). Washington: Pew Research Center.

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  • Jake


    July 6th, 2015 at 12:10 PM

    I’m going with the scientists. Most of the have gone to school far longer and know far more than I do. So I think that I will just stick with them.

  • Donny


    July 9th, 2015 at 2:58 PM

    I want to know that the decisions that are made that affect my life are being made with sound knowledge and science, and that politics in no way guides those decision. That is probably being very unrealistic but I like to think that the public officials actually are thinking more about me and my family than they are about what they are going to get out of this move or another.

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