Dear Science Communication Professionals: We have a problem.
Earlier this month, the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham creationism “debate” received a disproportionate amount of press coverage. Considering that there really is no debate to be had when it comes to the science of evolution, for bad or for worse, Nye faced a hostile audience at the Creationist Museum in Kentucky. He hoped to score some scientific points against Ham’s literal translation of the Bible and his absurd assertion that the world was created in 6 days and that the universe is 6,000 years old.
In my opinion, (an opinion shared by other science communicators), the Nye vs. Ham debate did little for science outreach. It was all about who sounded more convincing and only gave creationists some free advertising.
VIDEO: Should Bill Nye Debate a Creationist?
And then, today, the National Science Foundation (NSF) delivered news of a pretty shocking poll result: around one in four Americans (yes, that’s 25 percent) are unaware that the Earth orbits the sun. Let’s repeat that: One in four Americans — that represents one quarter of the population — when asked probably the most basic question in science (except, perhaps, “Is the Earth flat?” Hint: No.), got the answer incorrect. Suddenly I realized why the Nye vs. Ham debate was so popular.
But wait! I hear you cry, perhaps the NSF poll was flawed? Perhaps the poll sample was too small? Sadly not. The NSF poll, which is used to gauge U.S. scientific literacy every year, surveyed 2,200 people who were asked 10 questions about physical and biological sciences. On average, the score was 6.5 out of 10 — barely a passing grade. But for me personally, the fact that 26 percent of the respondents were unaware the Earth revolves around the sun shocked me to the core.
Perhaps I’m expecting too much of the U.S. education system? Perhaps this is just an anomaly; a statistical blip? But then, like the endless deluge of snow that is currently choking the East Coast, another outcome of the same poll appeared on the foggy horizon of scientific illiteracy: The majority of young Americans think astrology is a science.
What the what? Have I been transported back to the Dark Ages? Astrology, of course, is not a science; it is a spiritual belief system at best and at worst a pseudoscience driven by charlatans and the tabloid press. The positions of the stars and planets in the sky do not affect my mood and my horoscope has little bearing on the kind of person I am. Even in China, one of the birthplaces of astrology, 92 percent of the people know that astrology is bunk. Really America, get your act together.
Unfortunately, if we are to use the “Is astrology a science?” as a litmus test for scientific literacy, things are looking grim. In 2004, 66 percent of the American public said astrology was bunk. Every year since then, that majority has slipped. By 2012, only 55 percent of Americans considered astrology “not at all scientific.” Probably of most concern is the fact that only 42 percent of young respondents aged between 18-24 said astrology is “not at all scientific.”
ANALYSIS: Is Astrology Rubbish? Don’t Get Me Started
But there is a small glimmer of hope. According to the same NSF poll, the vast majority of Americans seem to love science. Although they returned woeful test results, it seems America is hungry to learn about science and think that science funding is essential for the well-being of the nation. But I’m now concerned about what America thinks science really is, especially in light of that astrology result. Also, just because the U.S. public wants to learn, can they find the institutions that will actually teach real science?
Schools across the nation are currently facing the unthinkable notion of teaching creationism alongside evolution in science classrooms. The fact that religion is given the same standing as science is not only absurd, it’s a fundamental institutional failing where children (who may be excited to learn about science) will grow up with a second-rate education, neglecting decades of scientific knowledge in favor of pseudo-scientific religious agendas.
For a nation that prides itself on science and discovery, it will be a tragedy on a national scale if fundamental science is undercut by superstition and the bad policies it inspires.

 

 
 
 
 

Chapter 7
Science and Technology: Public
Attitudes and Understanding
7-1
Highlights
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
7-4
Interest, Information Sources, and
Involvement
……………………………………………………………..
7-4
Public Knowledge about S&T
……………………………………………………………………………………..
7-4
Public Attitudes about S&T in General
…………………………………………………………………………
7-4
Public Attitudes about Specific S&T-Related Issues
………………………………………………………
7-5
Introduction
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
7-6
Chapter Overview
………………………………………………………………………………………………………
7-6
Chapter Organization
………………………………………………………………………………………………….
7-6
A Note about Data and Terminology
…………………………………………………………………………….
7-6
Interest, Information Sources, and Involvement
………………………………………………………………
7-10
Public Interest in S&T
………………………………………………………………………………………………
7-10
Availability of S&T News in the Media
………………………………………………………………………
7-12
S&T Information Sources
………………………………………………………………………………………….
7-15
Involvement
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
7-18
Public Knowledge about S&T
………………………………………………………………………………………
7-20
Understanding Scientific Terms and Concepts
……………………………………………………………..
7-20
Reasoning and Understanding the Scientific
Process
…………………………………………………….
7-23
Perceived Knowledge about Causes and Solutions to Environmental Problems
……………….
7-26
Public Attitudes about S&T in General
………………………………………………………………………….
7-26
Promises and Reservations about S&T
………………………………………………………………………..
7-28
Federal Funding of Scientific Research
……………………………………………………………………….
7-30
Confidence in the Science Community’s Leadership
…………………………………………………….
7-32
Views of S&E Occupations
……………………………………………………………………………………….
7-32
Which Fields and Activities Are Seen as
Scientific
……………………………………………………..
7-35
Influence of Scientific Experts on Public
Issues
…………………………………………………………..
7-37
Public Attitudes about Specific S&T-Related Issues
………………………………………………………..
7-37
Environment
……………………………………………………………………………………………………………
7-38
Climate Change
……………………………………………………………………………………………………….
7-40
Nuclear Power and Other Energy Sources
…………………………………………………………………..
7-42
Genetically Modified Food
………………………………………………………………………………………..
7-43
Nanotechnology
………………………………………………………………………………………………………
7-44
Stem Cell Research and Human Cloning
…………………………………………………………………….
7-44
Teaching Evolution in the Schools
……………………………………………………………………………..
7-45
Animal Research
………………………………………………………………………………………………………
7-45
Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Education
……………………………………………………….
7-46
Conclusion
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
7-46
Notes
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
7-47
Glossary
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
7-49
References
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
7-50

Science and Engineering Indicators 2014
7-9
International Survey Data Sources—continued
Sponsoring
organization Title
Years used Information used
Data collection
method
Respondents (
n
); margin of
error of general population
estimates
Gallup
Global Gallup Reports 2007–08,
2010
Attitudes toward climate change Face-to-face
interviews
Telephone
interviews
2007–08: (Total)
n
= 206,193; ± 1.0%–6.0%
(United States and
127 other countries)
~ 2,000 in most countries
2010: (Total)
n
= ~ 111,000;
± 1.7%–5.7%
(United States and 110 other
countries) ~ 1,000 each
India National Council
of Applied Economic
Research
National Science Survey 2004 Various knowledge items, visits
to informal science institutions,
information sources
Face-to-face
interviews
n
= 30,255
International Social
Survey Programme
Environment Module 1993, 2000,
2010
Various environment and science
items
Face-to-face
interviews
Paper questionnaires
1993: (Total)
n
= 28,301;
(United States) 1,430;
(22 other countries)
767–1,931
2000: (Total)
n
= 31,042;
(United States) 1,276;
(37 other countries)
527–1,609
2010: (Total)
n
= 45,199;
(United States) 2,044;
(31 other countries)
527–1,609
Japanese Cabinet
Office
A Public Opinion Poll
on Science, Technology,
and Society (except 1998,
when it is “…Science and
Technology in the Future”)
1990, 1995,
1998, 2004,
2007, 2010
Interest
Face-to-face
interviews
1990, 1995, 1998, 2004,
2010:
n
= ~ 1,900–2,200
2007:
n
= 1,667
Japan National
Institute of Science
and Technology
Policy, Ministry of
Education, Culture,
Sports, Science and
Technology
Survey of Public Attitudes
Toward and Understanding
of Science and Technology
in Japan
2001, 2011 Interest, various knowledge and
attitude items, information sources,
visits to informal science institutions
Face-to-face
interviews
2001:
n
= 2,146
2011 (July):
n
=1,010
2011 (Dec.):
n
=1,208
Korea Foundation for
the Advancement of
Science and Creativity
(formerly Korea
Science Foundation)
Survey of Public Attitudes
Toward and Understanding
of Science and Technology
2004, 2008,
2010
Interest, various knowledge and
attitude items, information sources,
funding, visits to informal science
institutions
Face-to-face
interviews
n
= 1,000; ± 3.0%–3.1%
Malaysian Science
and Technology
Information Center,
Ministry of Science,
Technology and
Innovation
Survey of the Public’s
Awareness of Science and
Technology: Malaysia
2008 Interest, awareness, various
knowledge and attitude items,
information sources, visits to
informal science institutions
Face-to-face
interviews
n
= 18,447; ± 1.0%
Ministry of Science
and Technology of
Brazil
Public Perceptions of
Science and Technology
2010 Attitudes toward government
spending
Face-to-face
interviews
n
= ~ 2,000; ± 2.2%
Pew Global Attitudes
Project, Pew Research
Center
Global Attitudes Survey
2010 Climate change concerns
(Varies by country)
Face-to-face
interviews
Telephone
interviews
(United States)
n
= 1,002;
± 4.0% (21 other countries)
n
= 700–3,262;
± 2.5%–5.0%
EU = European Union; UK = United Kingdom.
NOTES: All surveys are national in scope and based on probability sampling methods. Statistics on the number of respondents and margin of error are as
reported by the sponsoring organization. When a margin of error is not cited, none was given by the sponsor.

7-10
Chapter 7. Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding
Throughout this chapter, the terminology used in the text
reflects the wording in corresponding survey questions. In
general, survey questions asking respondents about their pri
mary sources of information, interest in issues in the news,
and general attitudes use the phrase “science and technol
ogy.” Thus,
S&T
is used when discussing these data. Survey
questions asking respondents about their confidence in insti
tutional leaders, the prestige of occupations, and their views
on different disciplines use terms such as “scientific commu
nity,” “scientists,” “researchers,” and “engineers,” so
S&E
is
used when examining issues related to occupations, careers,
and fields of research. Although science and engineering are
distinct fields, national survey data that make this distinc
tion are scarce. The term
Americans
, as well as equivalent
terms for other countries, is meant to refer to U.S. residents
included in a national survey. However, not all respondents
were citizens of the countries in which they were surveyed.
Interest, Information
Sources, and Involvement
Americans’ understanding and attitudes about topics such
as S&T depend, in part, on how much exposure they get to
such content throughout their life, as well as how much at
tention they pay to such content (Slater, Hayes, and Ford
2007). Exposure and attention to S&T can make residents
more informed, shape attitudes, and help them make deci
sions that are better for themselves, their families, and their
communities. Media use can also spur interest in S&T issues
and foster a desire to seek out and consider new information.
This section reviews overall expressed interest in me
dia reports about S&T, the sources of material about S&T
that are available to the public, and the type of S&T-related
content the public uses. It concludes with indicators of be
havioral involvement in S&T through visits to museums and
other cultural institutions.
Public Interest in S&T
U.S. Patterns and Trends
Most Americans say they are interested in science news,
although several other subjects draw more interest. Less
than half of Americans (40%) in 2012 said that they were
“very interested” in news about “new scientific discoveries,”
which is about the same as the percentage who expressed
high levels of interest in news about “military and defense
policy” (37%) and the “use of new inventions and tech
nologies” (42%). Interest in other issues that touch on S&T
ranged from a high of 58% for “new medical discoveries” to
a low of 23% for “space exploration.” “Environmental pol
lution” issues (45%) were also popular (figure 7-1; appendix
tables 7-1 and 7-2).
1
Current findings for science news are within their histori
cal range. For 2012, the percentage of Americans who said
they find news about scientific discovery “very” interesting
stayed stable from 2010, but the percentage saying they are
“not at all interested” in scientific discovery climbed from
8% in 2010 to 14%. Between 1981 and 2012, the percentage
of uninterested respondents has ranged between 17% (1981)
and 8% (2001), whereas the percentage of “very interest
ed” respondents has ranged between 37% (1981) and 49%
(1997). The topic of medical discoveries has consistently
stayed at the top of the list alongside nonscience issues such
as local school issues and economic issues. Space explo
ration has remained near the bottom alongside nonscience
subjects such as international affairs (figure 7-2; appendix
tables 7-1 and 7-2).
Also, although most Americans may say they have an in
terest in S&T, Pew Research data show that the percentage of
Americans who actually followed news about “Science and
Technology” “very closely” was just 16% in 2012 and has
stayed between 13% and 18% since 2000. The 2012 percent
age is down from highs of 20% and 22% in 1996 and 1998,
respectively. Weather is the most common subject respondents
say they follow “very closely” (52%). About the same percent
age of people paid close attention to S&T as paid close attention
Figure 7-1
Public interest in selected issues: 2012
NOTE: Responses to
There are a lot of issues in the news
,
and it is
hard to keep up with every area
.
I’m going to read you a short list of
issues, and for each one I would like you to tell me if you are very
interested, moderately interested, or not at all interested.
SOURCE: University of Chicago, National Opinion Research Center,
General Social Survey (2012). See appendix table 7-1.
Science and Engineering Indicators 2014
Very interested
Don’t know
Moderately interested
Not at all interested
Cumulative percent
International and
foreign policy issues
Agricultural and
farm issues
Space
exploration
Military and
defense policy
New scientic
discoveries
Use of new inventions
and technologies
Environmental
pollution
Economic issues and
business conditions
Local school issues
New medical
discoveries
0 20 40 60 80 100

Science and Engineering Indicators 2014
7-11
to politics, business and finance, and international affairs.
Although some issues have stayed relatively stable, most issues
have seen at least small declines in the percentage of Americans
who say they follow that topic closely. One of the largest de
clines has been in the percentage of Americans interested in
health news (Pew Research Center 2012a) (table 7-1).
International Comparisons
Americans generally report higher levels of interest in
S&T issues than do residents of many European countries.
A survey conducted by the BBVA Foundation in the United
States and 10 European countries—including the 5 largest
(France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom)
and 5 others (Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, the
Netherlands, and Poland)—asked respondents to use a
0-to-10–point scale to rate their interest in six issues. These
included three S&T-related issues (“scientific issues,” “en
vironmental issues,” and “health issues”) and three non-
S&T issues (“economic issues,” “international issues,” and
“political issues”). For scientific issues, the United States
had an average interest level of 6.0, which was greater than
the 10-country European average of 5.6. The Netherlands
had the highest score (6.4), and several countries were in
the same general range as the United States. The U.S. av
erage for interest in environmental issues (6.9) tied the
Netherlands, the highest of the included European countries,
but was only a little higher than the overall average of 6.6.
For health issues, the U.S. average of 7.8 was just below
Figure 7-2
Public interest in selected science-related issues:
1981–2012
Percent “very interested”
NOTE: Responses to
There are a lot of issues in the news, and it is
hard to keep up with every area. I’m going to read you a short list of
issues, and for each one I would like you to tell me if you are very
interested, moderately interested, or not at all interested.
SOURCES: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science
and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Public Attitudes Toward and
Understanding of Science and Technology (1981–2001); University of
Chicago, National Opinion Research Center, General Social Survey
(2008–12). See appendix table 7-1.
Science and Engineering Indicators 2014
2008
2001
1997
1992
1988
1981 1985
2012
0
20
40
60
80
New medical discoveries
Use of new inventions
and technologies
New scientic discoveries
Space exploration
Table 7-1
News followed “very closely” by American public: 1996–2012
(Percent)
Type of news
1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2012
Weather
………………………………………………………………………..
NA
NA NA NA 53 50 48 52
Crime
……………………………………………………………………………
41
36 30 30 32 29 28 28
Community
……………………………………………………………………
35
34 26 31 28 26 22 26
Sports
…………………………………………………………………………..
26
27 27 25 25 23 20 26
Health news
…………………………………………………………………..
34
34 29 26 26 24 20 23
Local government
…………………………………………………………..
24
23 20 22 22 20 20 21
Politics/Washington news
……………………………………………….
16
19 17 21 24 17 21 17
Science and technology
………………………………………………….
20
22 18 17 16 15 13 16
Business and finance
……………………………………………………..
13
17 14 15 14 14 16 15
International affairs
…………………………………………………………
16
16 14 21 24 17 16 14
Entertainment
………………………………………………………………..
15
16 15 14 15 12 10 11
Education
……………………………………………………………………..
NA
NA NA NA NA NA 23 NA
Environment
………………………………………………………………….
NA
NA NA NA NA NA 21 NA
Religion
…………………………………………………………………………
17
18 21 19 20 16 17 NA
Consumer news
…………………………………………………………….
14
15 12 12 13 12 13 NA
Culture and arts
……………………………………………………………..
9
12 10 9 10 9 11 NA
Celebrity news
……………………………………………………………….
NA
NA NA NA NA NA 7 NA
Travel
……………………………………………………………………………
NA
NA NA NA NA NA 6 NA
NA = not available, question not asked.
NOTE: Data reflect respondents who said they followed a type of news “very closely.”
SOURCES: Pew Research Center for the People and the Press,
Audience Segments in a Changing News Environment: Key News Audiences Now
Blend Online and Traditional Sources
(17 August 2008), p. 39; Biennial News Consumption Survey (30 April–1 June 2008), http://www.people-press.org/
reports/pdf/444.pdf, accessed 21 September 2009; Biennial News Consumption Survey (9 May–3 June 2012), http://www.people-press.org/files/legacy-
questionnaires/News%20Consumption%20topline%20for%20release.pdf, accessed 25 January 2013.
Science and Engineering Indicators 2014

Science and Engineering Indicators 2014
7-13
the final launch of the Space Shuttle
Atlantis
and the end
of the shuttle program. (table 7-3) (NSB 2012). The most
prominent environmental issue in the news has varied over
recent years. The energy debate and global warming/climate
change, as well as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, have
all received prominent coverage in recent years (NSB 2012).
News programming on the three major broadcast net
works (ABC, CBS, and NBC) shows a similar pattern. The
Tyndall Report has tracked the content of the three major
broadcast networks for more than 20 years. Tyndall tabu
lates the amount of airtime devoted to different topics us
ing 18 different categories (Tyndall Report 2013). Two
categories with large science, engineering, and technology
components are “science, space, and technology” and “bio
technology and basic medical research.”
6
Neither category
has ever occupied a large percentage of the approximately
15,000 minutes of annual nightly weekday newscast cover
age on the networks. The airtime devoted to “science, space,
and technology” averaged about 2% of broadcast news be
tween 2000 and 2012. Time devoted to “biotechnology and
basic medical research” was even lower, almost always 1%
or less of broadcast news (figure 7-3).
The leading stories in these two science-related catego
ries on nightly news broadcasts in 2011 were the death of
Apple chief executive officer and technology innovator
Steve Jobs and the end of NASA’s Space Shuttle program.
In 2012, the social networking site Facebook’s initial public
offering of stock led technology coverage. NASA stayed in
the news with its
Curiosity
rover mission to Mars as well as
additional coverage of the end of the space shuttle program.
In the category of “biotechnology and basic medical re
search,” cancer research garnered the most coverage in both
2011 and 2012 (table 7-4). Since 2006, cancer research has
received more attention than other medical research topics
(NSB 2008, 2010, 2012).
The PEJ also tracked new media and social media—a
segment of the Internet that continues to grow at high rates
around the world (Pew Research Global Attitudes Project
2012)—between January 2009 and June 2012. The New
Media Index focused specifically on the five main topics
linked to by blog and Twitter posts from Monday to Friday
of each week.
7
Discussion of specific technology compa
nies (e.g., Apple, Google, Samsung, Facebook, and Twitter)
dominated both blogs and Twitter. In 2012, technology com
panies remained among the most common topics of discus
sion on blogs, but other subjects dominated Twitter (table
7-5). The one environmental issue that made the top five list
multiple times was “global warming.”
Table 7-2
Traditional media coverage of science and technology, by topic area: 2007–12
(Percent)
Year
Number of stories Science and technology Environment Health and medicine
2007………………………………………. 70,737
1.3
1.6
3.6
2008………………………………………. 69,942
1.1
1.3
2.7
2009………………………………………. 68,717
1.8
1.5
8.9
2010………………………………………. 52,613
1.5
1.6
5.0
2011………………………………………. 48,555
1.4
1.0
3.1
2012 (January–May)
…………………
20,452
1.2
1.2
4.1
NOTES: Data reflect the percentage of news stories in each topic area that are based on content analysis of coverage by media outlets in five sectors: print,
Internet, network television, cable television, and radio. Data for 2012 reflect only the first 5 months of the year; data were not collected after May 2012.
SOURCE: Project for Excellence in Journalism, News Coverage Index, special tabulations (21 March 2011, 10 December 2012), received via e-mail. For
Science and Engineering Indicators 2014
Figure 7-3
Network nightly news coverage of science and
technology: 1988–2012
Percent of news
NOTES: Data reect the percentage of approximately 15,000 total
annual minutes of weekday nightly newscasts on ABC, CBS, and
NBC that were spent on science, space, and technology and on
biotechnology and basic medical research. Excluded from science,
space, and technology are stories on forensic science and media
content. Excluded from biotechnology and basic medical research
are stories on clinical research and medical technology.
SOURCE: Tyndall Report, special tabulations (21 March 2011, 12
January 2013, 22 January 2013).
Science and Engineering Indicators 2014
1988 1992 1996 2000 2004 2008 2012
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
Science, space, and technology
Biotechnology and basic medical research

7-14
Chapter 7. Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding
Table 7-3
Leading traditional media story lines on science and technology, by topic area: 2011 and 2012
(Percent of news in each topic area)
Topic area/leading story line
2011 Topic area/leading story line
January–May 2012
Science, space, and technology (
n
= 693 stories)
Science, space, and technology (
n
= 255 stories)
NASA/shuttle missions
…………………………………………
26.2
Cyberspace issues
…………………………………………………….
12.7
Cyberspace issues
………………………………………………
13.2
Online piracy legislation
………………………………………………
12.6
Apple news
…………………………………………………………
7.2
Facebook/Zuckerberg news
………………………………………..
7.8
Supr
eme Court actions
…………………………………………
3.4
NASA/shuttle missions
……………………………………………….
7.3
Facebook/Zuckerber
g news
………………………………….
2.4
SpaceX rocket launch
…………………………………………………
4.5
T
exting and driving/multitasking
…………………………….
1.9
Google news
……………………………………………………………..
4.2
Gabrielle Gif
fords shooting
……………………………………
1.7
Kony 2012
viral video…………………………………………………. 3.9
Google news
……………………………………………………….
1.2
Apple news
……………………………………………………………….
3.1
Iran
…………………………………………………………………….
1.1
Texting and driving/multitasking
…………………………………..
2.2
Economy
…………………………………………………………….
0.9
Education system/debate
……………………………………………
1.8
Japan earthquake/tsunami (Mar
ch 2011)
………………..
0.9
Japan earthquake/tsunami (March 2011)
………………………
0.8
Nobel prizes
………………………………………………………..
0.8
New Year celebrations
………………………………………………..
0.8
Pollution/emissions/going gr
een
……………………………
0.8
Economy
…………………………………………………………………..
0.6
Education system/debate
……………………………………..
0.8
Envir
onment (
n
= 244 stories)
Environment (
n
= 467 stories)
Energy debate
……………………………………………………………
30.4
Ener
gy debate
……………………………………………………..
28.0
Keystone oil pipeline
…………………………………………………..
13.1
Japan earthquake/tsunami (Mar
ch 2011)
………………..
14.1
Gas/oil prices
…………………………………………………………….
11.0
Pollution/emissions/going gr
een
……………………………
13.3
Global warming
………………………………………………………….
10.3
Global warming
……………………………………………………
7.1
Pollution/emissions/going green
………………………………….
6.9
Solyndra scandal
…………………………………………………
6.8
Nuclear policy
……………………………………………………………
3.7
Gas/oil prices
………………………………………………………
5.5
BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico
…………………………………..
2.3
BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico
…………………………….
5.2
Japan earthquake/tsunami (March 2011)
………………………
1.9
Economy
…………………………………………………………….
2.1
Solyndra scandal
……………………………………………………….
1.4
2012 pr
esidential election
……………………………………..
1.4
2012 presidential election
……………………………………………
1.2
District of Columbia–ar
ea earthquake
…………………….
0.6
Economy
…………………………………………………………………..
1.2
Supr
eme Court actions
……………………………………………….
0.8
Health and medicine (
n
= 1,499 stories)
Health care reform debate
…………………………………….
42.8
Health and medicine (
n
= 839 stories)
2012 presidential election
……………………………………..
2.9
Health care reform debate
…………………………………………..
60.3
Economy
…………………………………………………………….
2.7
2012 presidential election
……………………………………………
3.7
Gabrielle Gif
fords shooting
……………………………………
1.8
Autism research
…………………………………………………………
1.5
Cigar
ette warning labels
……………………………………….
1.4
Heart disease research
……………………………………………….
1.2
W
orld AIDS Day 2011
…………………………………………..
1.2
Truvada
—promising HIV/AIDS medication
…………………..
1.0
Japan earthquake/tsunami (March 2011)
………………..
1.1
Flesh-eating bacteria
………………………………………………….
0.9
Education system/debate
……………………………………..
1.0
Bloomberg big soda ban
…………………………………………….
0.9
Stem cell contr
oversy
…………………………………………..
1.0
Education system/debate
……………………………………………
0.9
A
vastin
®
loses FDA approval
…………………………………
0.9 U.S. airline industry
…………………………………………………….
0.8
Listeria
-tainted melons
…………………………………………
0.8
Stem cell controversy
…………………………………………………
0.6
WHO cell phone study (June 2011)
………………………..
0.8
Trayvon Martin shooting
……………………………………………..
0.6
Heart disease r
esearch
…………………………………………
0.8
Dr
. Oz and apple juice
…………………………………………..
0.8
HPV cervical cancer vaccine
…………………………………
0.6
German
E. coli
outbreak
……………………………………….
0.5
FDA = Food and Drug Administration; HPV = human papillomavirus; NASA = National Aeronautics and Space Administration; WHO = World Health
Organization.
NOTES: Data reflect story lines with the greatest percentage of news in each topic area based on content analysis of coverage by media outlets in five
sectors: print, Internet, network television, cable television, and radio. Data for 2012 reflect only the first 5 months of the year; data were not collected
after May 2012.
SOURCE: Project for Excellence in Journalism, News Coverage Index, special tabulations (10 December 2012). For methodology, see http://www.
journalism.org/commentary_backgrounder/new_media_index_methodology, accessed 18 January 2013.
Science and Engineering Indicators 2014
Entertainment television can also shape views.
However, one recent study showed that, between 2000
and 2008, scientists represented just 1% of characters
on prime-time network shows. Of these scientists, 7 out
of 10 were men and almost 9 of 10 were white. Medical
professionals were 8% of the characters. Generic “profes
sionals” were the most common type of character (21%).
In general, about 8 of 10 scientists were coded as being
“good” (Dudo et al. 2011).
8

Science and Engineering Indicators 2014
7-15
getting information about current events from the Internet
has increased steadily since about 2001, and the percentage
using newspapers for current events has declined. Television
use declined for several years but has held steady at current
levels since about 2008 (figure 7-5; appendix table 7-3).
For news specifically about S&T, Americans are now more
likely to rely on the Internet than on television. In 2012, 42%
of Americans cited the Internet as their primary source of S&T
information, up from 35% in 2010. The percentage citing the
Internet as their primary source of S&T information has also
grown steadily since 2001. Conversely, reliance on television
has dropped; about 32% of Americans reported that television
was their primary source of S&T news in 2012, down from
39% in 2008. Some 7% said they get their S&T information
from newspapers, and another 8% said they get their S&T in
formation from magazines (figure 7-5; appendix table 7-4).
S&T Information Sources
U.S. Patterns and Trends
The media environment has changed repeatedly over the last
century. The available data show clear trends in what sources
Americans say they use to get news about current events and
S&T, as well as where they would look for new S&T informa
tion. Overall, Pew Research reports that Americans said they
spent 67 minutes with the news per day in 2012, similar to pre
vious years. The main difference was a clear shift toward online
sources (Pew Research Center 2012a).
For news about current events, television remains the
primary source of information for 43% of Americans.
Substantial percentages also reported in 2012 that most of
their current event news comes from the Internet (33%) or
newspapers (13%) (figure 7-4). The percentage of Americans
Table 7-4
Leading nightly news story lines on science and technology, by topic area: 2011 and 2012
(Annual minutes of coverage)
Topic area/leading story line
2011 Topic area/leading story line
2012
Science, space, and technology
Science, space, and technology
Computer CEO Steve Jobs of Apple dies at age 56
……..
68
Internet social network Facebook launches IPO
……………
69
NASA Space Shuttle pr
ogram discontinued
…………………..
62
Mars astronomy: NASA
Curiosity
rover mission
…………….
34
Cellular telephone/computer combination: smartphones
….
27
NASA Space Shuttle pr
ogram ends as a museum piece
31
Cellular telephone radiation safety worries
…………………..
20
Solar astronomy: storms, flares, Northern Lights
…………..
22
Computer networks tar
geted by coordinated hackers
…..
15
Computer networks targeted by coordinated hackers
……
18
Cellular telephone billing abuses, sur
charges
………………
14
Space transportation uses privatized rockets
……………….
16
NASA r
esearch satellite falls out of orbit
……………………..
14
Cellular telephone/computer combination: smartphones
….
14
Inter
net online commerce volume increases
………………..
13
Computer flat-screen tablet technology innovation
……….
10
Immigrant quotas on work visas for high-technology
jobs
11
Computer manufacturer Apple posts record profits
……….
10
Computer flat-scr
een tablet technology innovation
………..
10
Science and mathematics education in schools
……………
9
NASA
Apollo
manned moon missions remembered
……..
9
International Space Station program
……………………………
9
Inter
national Space Station program
…………………………..
9
NASA manned space flights from the 1960s
…………………
9
Inventions/innovations in technology surveyed
…………….
9
T
eenage girl is a science achiever despite homelessness
9
Aster
oids/astronomy: rock to pass close to Earth
…………
8
Internet search engine Google monitors browsing
…………
9
Inter
net used for social networking: Facebook grows
……
8
Highway safety: drivers’ cell phone use dangers
…………..
8
Mars astr
onomy: search for signs of life
………………………
8
Internet online commerce volume increases
…………………
8
NASA Space Shuttle
Challenger
disaster 25th anniversary
8
Physicists build supercollider, search for particle
…………..
7
Air safety: in-cabin cellular telephone use risks
……………
8
High school science fair competitions held for students
…..
7
Internet BlackBerry e-mail service is addictive…………….. 7 Solar eclipses visible in western states, Australia
………….
7
Science and mathematics education in schools
…………..
5
Internet copyright piracy crackdown proposed…………….. 6
Space transportation to use privatized rockets
…………….
5
Internet social network photographs from Instagram
…….
6
Flash mobs assemble via instant message networks
……
5
NASA
Apollo
manned moon missions remembered
………
6
T
elecommunications billing consumer fraud:
crammed surcharges
…………………………………………….
5
T
elemarketing abuses: automated robocalls increase
…….
6
V
enus astronomy: transit visible across the face of the sun
6
NASA Space Shuttle astr
onaut Sally Ride dies at age 61
6
Biotechnology and basic medical r
esearch
Computer systems are vulnerable to viruses, worms
……..
5
W
ar on cancer research efforts
…………………………………..
59
NASA
Apollo
astronaut Neil Armstrong dies at age 82
…..
5
Spinal cor
d injuries and paralysis research
………………….
16
Air safety: in-cabin use of electronic devices
………………..
5
Aster
oids/astronomy: rock passes close to Earth
………….
5
Digital surveillance spycams ar
e miniaturized
……………….
5
Biotechnology and basic medical r
esearch
War on cancer research efforts
……………………………………
28
Bone marr
ow stem cell transplants save lives………………. 9
Spinal cord injuries and paralysis research
…………………..
5
CEO = chief executive officer; IPO = initial public offering; NASA = National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
NOTES: Data reflect annual minutes of story coverage on these topics by major networks ABC, CBS, and NBC, out of approximately 15,000 total annual
minutes on weekday nightly newscasts. Story lines receiving at least 5 minutes of coverage in 2011 or 2012 are shown. Excluded from science, space,
and technology are stories on forensic science and media content. Excluded from biotechnology and basic medical research are stories on clinical
research and medical technology.
SOURCE: Tyndall Report, special tabulations (12 January 2013, 22 January 2013).
Science and Engineering Indicators 2014

7-16
Chapter 7. Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding
In 2012, the GSS also included questions aimed at un
packing what people mean when they say they go online for
S&T information and whether people are using traditional
media sources’ online content. These analyses point to the
importance of newspapers’ online presence. Of the 42% who
said they go online for S&T news, 63% indicated they used
online newspapers. Of the 7% who said newspapers were the
primary source of S&T information, about one-sixth (16%)
said they used an online edition. Combined, this means that
33% got S&T news from newspapers, with 27% getting their
newspaper online and 6% getting it in traditional form. It
also means that newspaper content is described as a primary
S&T source by about the same percentage of people who
said television was their primary source of S&T information
(32%). Another 11% said their online source was magazines.
This represents about 5% of all respondents and means that
about 13% of all S&T media use was from magazines. All
other potential online sources—which might include blogs
and other forms of social media—were chosen by less than
10% of respondents who indicated they went online for S&T
news. The data do not address attention to individual issues.
Since at least 2001, the Internet has also been the most
common resource that respondents say they would use to
seek out information about specific scientific issues. In
2012, the highest ever percentage of Americans (63%) said
they would go online to find information about a specific
S&T issue. Another 17% said they would turn to television
and just 3% said they would use newspapers (figure 7-5; ap
pendix table
7-5).
Generally,
newspaper reliance is more common for
relatively older respondents, and Internet reliance is more
common for relatively younger and higher earning respon
dents. Television use is also somewhat less common for
younger respondents, although the pattern is not nearly as
pronounced. Those with lower incomes and lower levels of
Table 7-5
Most-discussed subjects in the new media: 2011 and 2012
Subject
2011
a
Subject
2012
b
Weeks in
top 5 (
n
)
Weeks in
top 5 (%)
Weeks in
top 5 (
n
)
Weeks in
top 5 (%)
Blogs
Blogs
Apple
………………………………………….
20
40 Apple
…………………………………………………..
16
70
2012 presidential election
……………….
13
26 Google
………………………………………………..
11
48
Google
………………………………………..
12
24 Search engine optimization
……………………
10
43
California budget
…………………………
6
12 2012 presidential election
………………………
6
26
Samsung
…………………………………….
5
10 Application programming interfaces (tie)
….
4
17
Samsung Galaxy (tie)
…………………………….
4
17
Twitter
Facebook
……………………………………. 19 38 Twitter
Google
……………………………………….. 19 38 One Direction (music)
……………………………
16
70
Twitter
………………………………………..
18
36 Justin Bieber (music)
…………………………….
10
43
Apple
………………………………………….
16
32 Super Junior (music)
……………………………..
10
43
Justin Bieber (music)
……………………
11
22 @The90sLife
………………………………………..
4
17
Lady Gaga (music) (tie)
………………………….
3
13
Trayvon Martin shooting (tie)
…………………..
3
13
a
Blogs and Twitter content analysis for 2011 is based on 50 weeks in the year.
b
Blogs and Twitter content analysis for 2012 is based on the first 23 weeks in the year.
NOTES: Data reflect the number and percentage of weeks a subject appeared in the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s (PEJ’s) New Media Index. PEJ
stopped regularly producing the New Media Index in June 2012.
SOURCE: PEJ New Media Index, special tabulations (January–February 2013), http://www.journalism.org/news_index/100, accessed 8 February 2013.
Science and Engineering Indicators 2014
Figure 7-4
Primary source of information about current news
events, science and technology, and specific
scientific issues: 2012
NOTE: “All other” includes radio, magazines, books, government
agencies, family, and friends/colleagues.
SOURCE: University of Chicago, National Opinion Research Center,
General Social Survey (2012). See appendix tables 7-3–7-5.
Science and Engineering Indicators 2014
Television
Internet
Newspapers
All other
Don’t know
Cumulative percent
100
80
60
40
20
0
Specic scientic
issues
Science and
technology
Current
news events

Science and Engineering Indicators 2014
7-17
education are more likely to say they get their news, includ
ing S&T-related news, from television, whereas those with
more education and income get their news from newspapers,
television, and the Internet (appendix tables 7-3–7-5).
Blending traditional and online news sources was also
addressed in the context of S&T for the 2012
Indicators
re
port based on 2010 GSS data.
That survey asked half of the
sample a question with response options that distinguished
between online and print-format sources for newspapers and
magazines. Overall, there was a clear pattern of increasing
reliance on online sources for increasingly specific content
(NSB 2012). More recent information on what other online
sources people may use for S&T information and the degree
to which people encounter S&T information as a byproduct
of attention to other issues is not available.
9
Another important aspect to understanding media use is to
recognize that people make choices about what media to use
based partially on the degree to which they trust that source.
Both Pew Research and Gallup data suggest that Americans
trust the media less than they did in previous years (Morales
2012; Pew Research Center 2011a, 2012b). Evidence about
how Americans judge the credibility of S&T-specific media
is, however, scant. A 2006 Pew Internet & American Life
Project study of how Americans acquire science informa
tion indicates that Internet users who seek science informa
tion online do not always assume that the information they
find there is accurate. The vast majority reported that they
checked information by comparing it to other information
they found online, comparing it to offline sources (e.g., sci
ence journals, encyclopedia) or by looking up the original
source of the information (Horrigan 2006; NSB 2008).
International Comparisons
The 2011 BBVA Foundation survey found that residents
of all countries made similar uses of television, newspapers,
the Internet, and radio to acquire S&T content. The survey
found that 47% of Americans watched television programs
addressing S&T topics “very” or “quite” often. The aver
age of the 10 European countries surveyed was 41% but
residents of two countries—the United Kingdom (54%)
and Denmark (54%)—watched more S&T television than
Americans. About one-third (34%) of Americans said they
read news items about S&T “very” or “quite” often in news
papers. This was similar to the 10-country European average
of 32%. Residents of the Netherlands were the most like
ly to say they often read S&T news in newspapers (52%),
although Denmark (48%) and the United Kingdom (43%)
also had relatively high S&T readership. About 32% of
Americans said they often read S&T news online, which was
a percentage comparable to those of the largest European
countries and substantially above the 10-country European
average of 24% (BBVA Foundation 2012a). Although these
data, compared with the GSS information on media use, may
suggest a less prominent role for the Internet, this may reflect
a difference in the questions on the two surveys. Whereas
the GSS asks people for their primary source of information,
the BBVA Foundation survey asked about overall use for
each channel.
Outside of Europe and North America, research has
also suggested that television is the leading source of S&T
Figure 7-5
Primary source of information about current news
events, science and technology, and specific
scientific issues: 2001–12
SOURCES: National Science Foundation, National Center for
Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Public Attitudes
Toward and Understanding of Science and Technology (2001);
University of Michigan, Survey of Consumer Attitudes (2004);
University of Chicago, National Opinion Research Center, General
Social Survey (2006–12). See appendix tables 7-3–7-5.
Science and Engineering Indicators 2014
Current news events
Science and technology
Specific scientific issues
Percent
2001
2004 2006 2008 2010 2012
2001
2004 2006 2008 2010 2012
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
Television
Newspapers
Internet
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
Television
Internet
Newspapers
2001
2004 2006 2008 2010 2012
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
Television
Internet
Newspapers

7-18
Chapter 7. Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding
information; newspapers are generally second, and relative
ly fewer survey respondents cite the Internet as an important
source of S&T information. This was true in countries such
as Malaysia (MASTIC 2010) and India (Shukla 2005). A
2010 Chinese survey allowed respondents to choose up to
three sources of information. About 88% of Chinese indi
cated that television was a primary source of their S&T in
formation, 59% said newspapers, and 27% said the Internet
(CRISP 2010). However, in more widely connected South
Korea, a 2010 survey found that more respondents named
the Internet (23%) as their primary source of S&T informa
tion than newspapers (12%). About 57% said television was
their primary source of S&T information. A separate set of
measures show that 30% said they “almost never” get S&T
information from television. About 53% said they rarely get
S&T information from newspapers, and 56% said they rare
ly get S&T information from the Internet (KOFAC 2011).
Americans and Europeans also appear to differentiate the
degree to which they trust scientific information provided by
various sources. The 2011 BBVA Foundation survey of 10
European countries and the United States asked respondents
to score a range of different groups on an 11-point scale,
where “0” meant they did “not trust it at all” and “10” meant
they trusted it a “great deal.” The results suggest substan
tial agreement over who should be trusted as an information
source. In the United States, professional medical associa
tions were the most trusted, with a mean score of 7.6, but
universities (7.4), science museums (7.2), and government
(7.2) were also highly trusted. In Europe, universities were
the most trusted information sources, with a mean score of
7.2, but medical associations (7.0) and science museums
(6.9) were also highly regarded. The score for government
was about a point lower in Europe (6.1) than in the United
States (7.2) but varied widely across countries. The news
media was the least trusted source in both the United States
(4.8) and Europe (5.1), but again scores varied widely in
Europe. Consumer organizations and environmental organi
zations had midrange scores in both the United States (6.1
and 6.2, respectively) and in the European countries sur
veyed (both 6.3) (BBVA Foundation 2012b).
Although the media received relatively low trust scores
on the BBVA Foundation S&T survey, a 2011 U.S. sur
vey by Pew Research suggested the media was among the
most trusted sources of general information (Pew Research
Center 2011a). This difference may reflect the comparison
groups involved in the two studies. The Pew Research study
asked about the trustworthiness of information from the
media versus various actors typically involved in political
decision making, and the BBVA study asked about actors
from a broader range of sources. The Pew Research study
also focused on general media trust, whereas the BBVA
Foundation study focused specifically on science.
Involvement
U.S. Patterns and Trends
U.S. residents may also come in contact with S&T
through America’s rich and diverse informal science and
cultural institutions. Many of these institutions actively try
to broaden and deepen Americans’ intellectual and emo
tional engagement with science (Bell, Lewenstein, Shouse,
and Feder 2009).
10
By offering visitors the flexibility to pur
sue individual curiosity, such institutions provide exposure
to S&T that is well-suited to helping people develop their
interests and improve their knowledge, and such institutions
can sometimes even change patrons’ attitudes.
The 2012 GSS shows that reported attendance at infor
mal science and cultural institutions was down slightly from
2008, although the changes were all quite small.
11
Zoos and
aquariums were the most popular type of informal science
institutions with 47% of Americans saying they had visited
such an organization in the previous year. This represents a
drop from 52% in 2008 and 58% in 2001. The Association
for Zoos and Aquariums’ member surveys have also con
sistently shown that about half of Americans visit a zoo or
aquarium in any given year, but their numbers suggest that
attendance stayed relatively stable between 2008 and 2011
at about 175 million visitors and then climbed to 181 million
in 2012.
12
According to the GSS, natural history museums
(28%) and science and technology museums (25%) contin
ued to attract about the same percentage of people in 2012 as
they did in 2008, although these percentages are also down
from 2001. In total, 58% of Americans said they had visited
at least one of these three types of cultural institutions in the
12 months prior to the 2012 survey, down from 61% in 2008
and 66% in 2001.
13
The public library remains a widely used resource in
communities across America, with 60% of respondents say
ing that they had visited a library in the previous 12 months.
This number was down from 2008 (64%) and 2001 (75%).
The percentage visiting art museums (33%)—the other cul
tural institution in the survey—stayed essentially unchanged
from 2008 (34%) and the earlier 2001 survey (32%) (table
7-6; appendix table 7-6).
Americans with more years of formal education are
more likely than others to engage in these informal science
activities. Those in higher income brackets are more likely
to have visited a zoo or aquarium, a natural history or S&T
museum, or an art museum but are just as likely as those in
the lowest income bracket to have visited a public library.
In general, visits to informal science institutions are less
common among Americans who are 45 or older (appendix
table
7-7).
A 2012 Pew Research study focused on libraries found
similar results. It found that 53% of Americans aged 16 or
older said they had visited a library in the “past year” and
that women (59%) and residents aged 16–17 (62%) were

Science and Engineering Indicators 2014
7-19
most likely to have done so. Almost everyone (91%) agreed
that libraries are “very” or “somewhat” important to their
“community as a whole.” Many also said they used the li
brary for activities such as researching a “topic of interest”
(54%), using a “research database” (46%), and attending a
“class, program or lecture for adults” (21%) (Pew Internet &
American Life Project 2013).
International Comparisons
The available data—some of which are relatively dated—
suggest that Americans are particularly active in the degree
to which they make use of a range of informal science and
cultural institutions.
China and Japan are the only countries where zoo and
aquarium attendance is similar to that in the United States,
and China also has similar levels of S&T and natural his
tory museum attendance. Chinese attendance at these
types of institutions also appears to be growing, with av
erage attendance up about 8% from 2007 across the
five types of cultural institutions measured (NSB 2012)
(table
7-6).
The
2011 BBVA Foundation survey of 10 European
countries and the United States asked slightly different
questions and found that attendance varies greatly between
countries. About 32% of Americans said they had visited an
S&T museum or exhibition in the previous 12 months. This
was higher than the 10-country European average of 25%
but similar to the rate of attendance by residents of several
specific countries such as Germany (35%), the Netherlands
(32%), Denmark (29%), Austria (29%), and France (29%).
Also, about 12% of Americans said they had attended a “con
ference or talk on science or technology topics.” This was
about the same as the European average (12%) but substan
tially lower than for countries such as the Netherlands (25%)
and Denmark (27%). Americans were, however, nearly twice
as likely as those in the 10 European countries surveyed to
have made a “virtual visit to a science and technology muse
um via the Internet.” About 20% of Americans said they had
made such a “visit” in the previous 12 months, whereas the
10-country European average was 8%, and the highest per
centage for an individual country was for Denmark (12%)
(BBVA Foundation 2012a). As noted previously, the BBVA
Foundation also found that both Americans and Europeans
in the 10 countries surveyed see science information from
museums as more trustworthy than information from many
other groups (BBVA Foundation 2012b).
Table 7-6
Visits to informal science and other cultural institutions, by country/region: Most recent year
(Percent)
Institution
United
States
(2012)
Brazil
(2010)
China
(2010)
EU
(2005)
India
(2004)
Japan
(2001)
Malaysia
(2008)
South Korea
(2010)
Zoo/aquarium
a
………………………..
47 22 58 27 35 43 30 28
Natural history museum
…………..
28
NA 22 NA NA 19 NA NA
Science/technology museum
b
…..
25
8 27 16 12 12 11
9
Public library
c
………………………….
60 29 50 34 27 46 NA 27
Art museum
d
…………………………..
33 14 27 23 22 34 30 27
NA = not available, question not asked.
EU = European Union; data are not available for Bulgaria and Romania.
a
“Zoo” for Brazil, India, and Malaysia; “Zoo, aquarium, botanical garden” for China.
b
“Science museums or technology museums or science centers” for EU; “Science parks” for India; “National Science Centre” for Malaysia; “Science
museum or exhibition” for South Korea.
c
“Library” for Brazil and India.
d
“Art gallery or exhibition hall” for China; “Museum” for India and Malaysia; “Museum/art gallery” for South Korea.
NOTES: Responses to (United States, Japan)
I am going to read you a short list of places and ask you to tell me how many times you visited each type of
place during the last year, that is, the last 12 months
(percentage includes those who visited each institution one or more times); (Brazil, China, EU)
Which
of the following have you visited in the last 12 months?
(multiple answers possible); (India)
How frequently did you visit the following during the last 12
months?
(percentage includes those who visited each institution one or more times); (Malaysia, South Korea)
In the past year, how many times did you
visit the following places?
(percentage includes those who visited each institution one or more times).
SOURCES: United States—University of Chicago, National Opinion Research Center, General Social Survey (2012); Brazil—Ministry of Science and
Technology of Brazil, Public Perceptions of Science and Technology (2010); China—Chinese Association for Science and Technology/China Research
Institute for Science Popularization, Chinese National Survey of Public Scientific Literacy (2010); EU—European Commission, Eurobarometer 224/Wave
63.1: Europeans, Science and Technology (2005); India—National Council of Applied Economic Research, National Science Survey (2004); Japan—
National Institute of Science and Technology Policy/Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Survey of Public Attitudes Toward
and Understanding of Science and Technology in Japan (2001); Malaysia—Malaysian Science and Technology Information Center/Ministry of Science,
Technology and Innovation, Survey of the Public’s Awareness of Science and Technology: Malaysia (2008); South Korea—Korea Foundation for the
Advancement of Science and Creativity, Survey of Public Understanding of Science and Technology (2010). See appendix table 7-6 for U.S. trends.
Science and Engineering Indicators 2014

7-20
Chapter 7. Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding
help make decisions about the natural world and the
changes made to it through human activity. (OECD
2003:132–33)
The degree to which respondents demonstrate an understand
ing of basic scientific terms, concepts, and facts; an ability
to comprehend how S&T generates and assesses evidence;
and a capacity to distinguish science from pseudoscience are
widely used indicators of basic scientific literacy.
The 2012 GSS continues to show that many Americans
provide multiple incorrect answers to basic questions
about scientific facts and do not apply appropriate reason
ing strategies to questions about selected scientific issues.
Residents of other countries, including highly developed
ones, appear to perform no better, on balance, when asked
similar
questions.
Understanding Scientific Terms and Concepts
U.S. Patterns and Trends
A primary indicator of public understanding of science
in the United States comes from a nine-question index of
factual knowledge questions included in the GSS. In 2012,
Americans were able to correctly answer an average of 5.8
of the 9 items (65%), which is slightly up from 2010 (5.6 of
9 items, or 63%) (appendix table 7-8).
The public’s level of factual knowledge about science has
not changed much over the past two decades (figure 7-6).
Since 2001, the average number of correct answers to a se
ries of nine questions for which fully comparable data have
been collected has ranged from 5.6 to 5.8 correct responses,
although scores for individual questions have varied some
what over time (appendix tables 7-8 and 7-9). Pew Research
used several of the same questions in a 2013 survey and re
ceived nearly identical results (Pew Research Center
2013a).
Factual knowledge of science is strongly related to peo
ple’s level of formal schooling and the number of science
and mathematics courses completed. For example, those
who had not completed high school answered 45% of the
nine questions correctly, and those who had completed a
bachelor’s degree answered 78% of the questions correctly.
The average percentage correct rose to 83% among those
who had taken three or more science and mathematics cours
es in college (figure 7-7). Respondents aged 65 or older are
less likely than younger Americans to answer the factual
science questions correctly (appendix table 7-8). Younger
generations have had more formal education, on average,
than Americans coming into adulthood some 50 years ago;
these long-term societal changes make it difficult to know
whether the association between age and factual knowledge
is due primarily to aging processes, cohort differences in
education, or other factors. Analyses of surveys conducted
between 1979 and 2006 concluded that public understand
ing of science has increased over time and by generation,
even after controlling for formal education levels (Losh
2010,
2012).
Public Knowledge about S&T
Science and Engineering Indicators
has been assessing
Americans’ knowledge about science and technology since
1979. Initial questions focused on the proper design of a
scientific study and views about whether pseudoscientific
belief systems, such as astrology, could be considered scien
tific. Questions focused on an understanding of probability
and an understanding of basic constructs were added in the
late 1980s and early 1990s (Miller 2004). These later ques
tions remain the core of the available data on trends in adult
Americans’ knowledge of science.
Researchers have questioned both the degree to which
scientific literacy has a substantial impact on how people
make decisions in their public and private lives (see, for ex
ample, NSB 2012:7-27; Bauer, Allum, and Miller 2007) and
whether a short battery of questions can assess scientific lit
eracy. Despite the limitations of these indicators, evidence
suggests that knowledge about science, as measured by the
GSS, has a small but meaningful impact on attitudes and
behaviors (Allum et al. 2008). In addition, adult responses
to an expanded list of knowledge questions drawn from
tests given to students nationwide indicate that people who
“answered the additional factual questions accurately also
tended to provide correct answers to the trend factual knowl
edge questions” included in the GSS (NSB 2010:7-20). This
finding suggests that the trend questions used in this report
represent a reasonable indicator of basic science knowledge.
At the same time, in light of the limitations of using a small
number of questions largely keyed to knowledge taught in
school, generalizations about Americans’ knowledge of
science should be made cautiously. Toumey et al. (2010)
recommended additional research aimed at developing a
measure of S&T literacy focused on how people actually
use S&T knowledge. Similar challenges confront attempts
to study health literacy (Berkman, Davis, and McCormack
2010) and political literacy (Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996).
More generally, in developing measures for what is often
termed
scientific literacy
across nations, the Organisation
for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD 2003)
emphasizes that scientific literacy is a matter of degree and
that people cannot be classified as either literate or not liter
ate. The OECD noted that literacy had several components:
Current thinking about the desired outcomes of
science education for all citizens emphasizes the de
velopment of a general understanding of important
concepts and explanatory frameworks of science, of
the methods by which science derives evidence to sup
port claims for its knowledge, and of the strengths and
limitations of science in the real world. It values the
ability to apply this understanding to real situations
involving science in which claims need to be assessed
and decisions made…
Scientific literacy is the capacity to use scientific
knowledge, to identify questions and to draw evi
dence-based conclusions in order to understand and

Science and Engineering Indicators 2014
7-21
focused on conclusions that the scientific community has
drawn about the natural world (“according to the theory of
evolution, human beings, as we know them today, devel
oped from earlier species of animals” and “according to as
tronomers, the universe began with a big explosion”).
In 2012, respondents were much more likely to answer
both questions correctly if the questions were framed as be
ing about scientific theories or ideas rather than about natu
ral world facts. For evolution, 48% of Americans answered
“true” when presented with the statement that human beings
evolved from earlier species with no preface, whereas 72%
of those who received the preface said “true,” a 24 percentage
point difference.
14
These results replicate the pattern from
2004, when the percentage answering “true” went from 42%
to 74%, a 32 percentage point difference (NSB 2008). For
the big bang question, the pattern was very similar: in 2012,
39% of Americans answered “true” when presented with the
statement about the origin of the universe without the pref
ace, whereas 60% of those who heard the statement with
the preface answered “true.” This represents a 21 percentage
point difference. The 2004 experiment found that including
the preface increased the percentage who answered correctly
Factual knowledge about science is also associated with
sex of the respondent. On average, men tend to answer more
factual science knowledge questions correctly (70% correct)
than do women (60% correct) (figure 7-7). However, this pat
tern depends on the science domain referenced in the ques
tion. Men typically score higher than women on questions
in the physical sciences but not on questions in the biologi
cal sciences. Women tend to score at least equally as high as
men on the biological science questions and often a bit higher
(table 7-7; appendix table 7-10).
Evolution and the Big Bang
The GSS survey includes two additional true-or-false
science questions that are not included in the index calcu
lation because Americans’ responses appear to reflect fac
tors beyond unfamiliarity with basic elements of science.
One of these questions addresses evolution, and the other
addresses the origins of the universe. To better understand
Americans’ responses, the 2012 GSS replicated an experi
ment first conducted in 2004 (NSB 2006). Half of the survey
respondents were randomly assigned to receive questions
focused on information about the natural world (“human be
ings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species
of animals” and “the universe began with a big explosion”).
The other half were asked the questions with a preface that
Figure 7-6
Mean number of correct answers to trend factual
knowledge of science scale: 1992–2012
Mean
NOTES: Mean number of correct answers to the nine questions that
are included in the trend factual knowledge of science scale; see
appendix table 7-8 for explanation, list of questions, and percentage
of questions answered correctly. See appendix tables 7-9 and 7-10
for responses to individual questions.
SOURCES: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science
and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Public Attitudes Toward and
Understanding of Science and Technology (1992–2001); University of
Chicago, National Opinion Research Center, General Social Survey
(2006–12).
Science and Engineering Indicators 2014
1992 1995 1997 1999 2001 2006 2008 2010 2012
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
Figure 7-7
Correct answers to trend factual knowledge of
science scale, by respondent characteristic: 2012
NOTES: Data reect the average percentage of nine questions
answered correctly. “Don’t know” responses and refusals to respond
are counted as incorrect. See appendix table 7-8 for explanation, list
of questions, and additional respondent characteristics. See
appendix tables 7-9 and 7-10 for responses to individual questions.
SOURCE: University of Chicago, National Opinion Research Center,
General Social Survey (2012).
Science and Engineering Indicators 2014
≥ 3 college science/
mathematics courses
1–2 college science/
mathematics courses
No college science/
mathematics courses
No college
Graduate/professional
degree
Bachelor’s degree
Some college
High school diploma
< High school
Female
Male
All respondents
Average percent of questions answered correctly
1009080706050403020100

7-22
Chapter 7. Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding
from 33% to 62%, a 29 percentage point difference (NSB
2008). Residents of other countries have been more likely
than Americans to answer “true” to the evolution question.
15
International Comparisons
Researchers in a range of countries have asked adults
in their countries identical or substantially similar ques
tions to test their factual knowledge of science in past years.
Knowledge scores for individual items vary from country to
country, and no country consistently outperforms the others.
For the physical science and biological science questions,
knowledge scores are relatively low in China, Russia, and
Malaysia. Compared with scores in the United States and
the EU overall, scores in Japan are also relatively low for
several questions (table 7-8).
16
Science knowledge scores have also varied across Europe,
with northern European countries, led by Sweden, scoring
the highest on a set of 13 questions. For a smaller set of four
questions, administered in 12 European countries in 1992
and 2005, each country performed better in 2005. In contrast,
U.S. data on science knowledge did not show upward trends
over the same period. In Europe, as in the United States, men,
younger adults, and more highly educated people tend to score
higher on these questions (NSB 2008).
The 2011 BBVA Foundation survey of 10 European coun
tries and the United States included a set of 22 knowledge
questions that were mostly different from those that have tra
ditionally been included in
Indicators
. On average, the United
States—with a mean score of 14.3 correct answers—per
formed similarly to many of the European countries surveyed,
with a score close to the European average (13.4). The highest
scoring countries were Denmark (15.6) and the Netherlands
(15.3). Germany (14.8), the Czech Republic (14.6), Austria
(14.2), the United Kingdom (14.1), and France (13.8) all had
scores similar to those of the United States.
There were some questions on which Europeans, how
ever, did much better than Americans. For example, for the
statement, “the earliest humans lived at the same time as the
dinosaurs,” about 43% of Americans correctly answered
“false,” whereas 61% of Europeans in the 10 countries sur
veyed gave the correct response. Another question on which
Americans did substantially worse focused on nuclear en
ergy. About 47% of Americans correctly indicated that the
“greenhouse effect” is not caused by the use of nuclear en
ergy, in comparison to 58% of Europeans. Conversely, there
were several questions on which Americans did substantial
ly better (BBVA Foundation 2012a).
17
Table 7-7
Correct answers to factual knowledge and scientific process questions in physical and biological sciences,
by sex: 1999–2012
(Average percent correct)
Science topic/sex
1999 2001 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012
Physical science index
a
Male
…………………………………………………………….
72 73 73 74 74 73 75
Female
…………………………………………………………
57
59 55 59 61 60 61
Biological science index
b
Male
…………………………………………………………….
59 61 62 63 60 62 59
Female
…………………………………………………………
61
65 65 66 64 64 62
a
Physical science index includes five questions:
The center of the Earth is very hot
. (True)
All radioactivity is man-made
. (False)
Lasers work by focusing sound waves
. (False)
Electrons are smaller than atoms
. (True)
The continents have been moving their location for millions of years and will continue to move
. (True)
b
Biological science index includes six questions (questions 3 and 4 have two parts):
It is the father’s gene that decides whether the baby is a boy or a girl
. (True)
Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria
. (False)
A doctor tells a couple that their genetic makeup means that they’ve got one in four chances of having a child with an inherited illness.
(1)
Does this
mean that if their first child has the illness, the next three will not?
(No); (2)
Does this mean that each of the couple’s children will have the same risk of
suffering from the illness?
(Yes) Data represent a composite of correct responses to both questions.
Two scientists want to know if a certain drug is effective against high blood pressure. The first scientist wants to give the drug to 1,000 people with
high blood pressure and see how many of them experience lower blood pressure levels. The second scientist wants to give the drug to 500 people with
high blood pressure and not give the drug to another 500 people with high blood pressure, and see how many in both groups experience lower blood
pressure levels. Which is the better way to test this drug? Why is it better to test the drug this way?
(The second way because a control group is used
for comparison.) Data represent a composite of correct responses to both questions.
NOTES: Data reflect the average percentage of questions in the index answered correctly. “Don’t know” responses and refusals to respond are counted
as incorrect.
SOURCES: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Public Attitudes Toward and Understanding
of Science and Technology (1999, 2001); University of Michigan, Survey of Consumer Attitudes (2004); University of Chicago, National Opinion Research
Center, General Social Survey (2006–12). See appendix tables 7-9 and 7-10 for factual knowledge questions. See appendix tables 7-11 and 7-12 for
scientific process questions (probability and experiment).
Science and Engineering Indicators 2014

Science and Engineering Indicators 2014
7-23
Little international polling is done on the question of evo
lution or the big bang. However, residents of other coun
tries have typically been more likely than Americans to say
they believe that “human beings, as we know them today,
developed from an earlier species of animals.” For exam
ple, 70% of European respondents in 2005 (NSB 2006) and
76% of Japanese respondents in 2011 (NISTEP 2012) gave
this
response.
Reasoning and Understanding
the Scientific Process
U.S. Patterns and Trends
Another indicator of public understanding of science fo
cuses on understanding of how science generates and assess
es evidence, rather than knowledge of particular facts. Such
measures reflect recognition that knowledge of specific
Table 7-8
Correct answers to factual knowledge questions in physical and biological sciences, by country/region:
Most recent year
(Percent giving correct answer)
Question
United
States
a
(2012)
China
(2010)
EU
(2005)
India
(2004)
Japan
(2011)
Malaysia
(2008)
Russia
(2003)
South Korea
(2004)
Physical science
The center of the Earth is
very hot
. (True)
………………….
84
56 86 57 84 66 NA 87
The continents have been
moving their location for
millions of years and will
continue to move
. (True)
…….
83
50 87 32 88 44 40 87
Does the Earth go around the
Sun, or does the Sun go
around the Earth?
(Earth
around Sun)
……………………..
74
NA 66 70 NA 72 NA 86
All radioactivity is man-
made
. (False)
……………………
72
48 59 NA 69 14 35 48
Electrons are smaller than
atoms
. (True)
…………………….
53
27 46 30 32 33 44 46
Lasers work by focusing
sound waves
. (False)
…………
47
23 47 NA 32 16 24 31
The universe began with a
huge explosion
. (True)
……….
39
NA NA 34 NA NA 35 67
Biological science
It is the father’s gene that
decides whether the baby is
a boy or a girl
.
b
(True)
…………
63 58 64 38 29 40 22 59
Antibiotics kill viruses as well
as bacteria
.
c
(False)
…………..
51 28 46 39 33 8 18 30
Human beings, as we know
them today, developed from
earlier species of animals.
(T
rue)
……………………………….
48
66 70 56 76 NA 44 64
NA = not available, question not asked.
EU = European Union; data are not available for Bulgaria and Romania.
a
See appendix table 7-9 for U.S. trends.
b
China and Europe surveys asked about “mother’s gene” instead of “father’s gene.”
c
Japan survey asked about “antibodies” instead of “antibiotics.”
SOURCES: United States—University of Chicago, National Opinion Research Center, General Social Survey (2012); China—Chinese Association
for Science and Technology/China Research Institute for Science Popularization, Chinese National Survey of Public Scientific Literacy (2010); EU—
European Commission, Eurobarometer 224/Wave 63.1: Europeans, Science and Technology (2005), and Eurobarometer 224/Wave 64.3: Europeans and
Biotechnology in 2005: Patterns and Trends (2006); India—National Council of Applied Economic Research, National Science Survey (2004); Japan—
National Institute of Science and Technology Policy/Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Survey of Public Attitudes Toward
and Understanding of Science and Technology in Japan (2011); Malaysia—Malaysian Science and Technology Information Centre/Ministry of Science,
Technology and Innovation, Survey of the Public’s Awareness of Science and Technology: Malaysia (2008); Russia—Gokhberg L, Shuvalova O, Russian
Public Opinion of the Knowledge Economy: Science, Innovation, Information Technology and Education as Drivers of Economic Growth and Quality of
Life, British Council, Russia (2004); South Korea—Korea Science Foundation (now Korea Foundation for the Advancement of Science and Creativity),
Survey of Public Attitudes Toward and Understanding of Science and Technology (2004).
Science and Engineering Indicators 2014

7-24
Chapter 7. Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding
S&T facts is conceptually different from knowledge about
the overall scientific processes (Miller 1998).
Data on three general topics—probability, experimental
design, and the scientific method—show trends in Americans’
understanding of the process of scientific inquiry. One set of
questions tests how well respondents apply the principles of
probabilistic reasoning to a series of questions about a couple
whose children have a 1 in 4 chance of suffering from an in
herited disease. A second set of questions deals with the logic
of experimental design, asking respondents about the best
way to design a test of a new drug for high blood pressure. A
third, open-ended question probes what respondents think it
means to “study something scientifically.” Because probabil
ity, experimental design, and the scientific method are all cen
tral to scientific research, these questions are relevant to how
respondents evaluate scientific evidence. These measures are
reviewed separately and then as a combined indicator of pub
lic understanding about scientific inquiry.
With regard to probability, 82% of Americans in 2012
correctly indicated that the fact that a couple’s first child
has the illness has no relationship to whether three future
children will have the illness. About 72% of Americans cor
rectly responded that the odds of a genetic illness are equal
for all of a couple’s children. Overall, 65% got both prob
ability questions correct. Understanding of probability has
been fairly stable over time, with the percentage giving both
correct responses ranging from 64% to 69% since 1999 and
going no lower than 61% dating back to 1990 (table 7-9; ap
pendix tables 7-11 and 7-12).
18
With regard to understanding experiments, one-third (34%)
of Americans were able to answer a question about how to test
a drug and then provide a correct response to an open-ended
question that required them to explain the rationale for an ex
perimental design (i.e., giving 500 people a drug while not
giving the drug to 500 additional people as a control group).
A smaller percentage of people were able to answer this set
of questions in 2012 than were in 2010, when 51% answered
correctly (table 7-9). However, this change should be treated
with particular caution because of the way these types of sur
vey responses rely on human coders to categorize responses
and because the 2010 figure represents an historical high.
19
The percentage of people the 2012 GSS judged as un
derstanding what it means to study something scientifically
was more consistent with previous surveys. About 20% of
Americans were scored as correctly answering the GSS
question on this topic. When describing the scientific meth
od, these respondents mentioned that it involves at least one
of the following: testing a theory using hypotheses, conduct
ing an experiment with a control group, or making rigorous
and systematic comparisons. The percentage of Americans
providing at least one of these acceptable answers has de
clined somewhat from a high of 26% in 2001, although the
2012 result is similar to percentages in recent years.
Table 7-9
Correct answers to scientific process questions: Selected years, 1999–2012
(Percent)
Question
1999 2001 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012
Understanding of scientific inquiry scale
a
…………………..
32 40 39 41 36 42 33
Components of understanding scientific inquiry scale
Understanding of probability
b
………………………………..
64 67 64 69 64 66 65
Understanding of experiment
c
……………………………….
34 40 46 42 38 51 34
Understanding of scientific study
d
………………………….
21 26 23 25 23 18 20
a
To be classified as understanding scientific inquiry, the survey respondent had to (1) answer correctly the two probability questions stated in footnote b
and (2) either provide a theory-testing response to the open-ended question about what it means to study something scientifically (see footnote d) or a
correct response to the open-ended question about experiment (i.e., explain why it is better to test a drug using a control group [see footnote c]).
b
To be classified as understanding probability, the survey respondent had to answer correctly
A doctor tells a couple that their genetic makeup means
that they’ve got one in four chances of having a child with an inherited illness.
(1)
Does this mean that if their first child has the illness, the next three will
not have the illness?
(No); and (2)
Does this mean that each of the couple’s children will have the same risk of suffering from the illness?
(Yes).
c
To be classified as understanding experiment, the survey respondent had to answer correctly (1)
Two scientists want to know if a certain drug is effective
against high blood pressure. The first scientist wants to give the drug to 1,000 people with high blood pressure and see how many of them experience
lower blood pressure levels. The second scientist wants to give the drug to 500 people with high blood pressure and not give the drug to another 500
people with high blood pressure, and see how many in both groups experience lower blood pressure levels. Which is the better way to test this drug?
and
(2)
Why is it better to test the drug this way?
(The second way because a control group is used for comparison).
d
To be classified as understanding scientific study, the survey respondent had to answer correctly (1)
When you read news stories, you see certain
sets of words and terms. We are interested in how many people recognize certain kinds of terms. First, some articles refer to the results of a scientific
study. When you read or hear the term scientific study, do you have a clear understanding of what it means, a general sense of what it means, or little
understanding of what it means?
and (2) (If “clear understanding” or “general sense” response)
In your own words, could you tell me what it means to
study something scientifically?
(Formulation of theories/test hypothesis, experiments/control group, or rigorous/systematic comparison).
NOTES: Data reflect the percentage of survey respondents who gave a correct response to each concept. “Don’t know” responses and refusals to
respond are counted as incorrect and are not shown. See appendix table 7-11 for more detail on the probability questions and for years before 1999.
SOURCES: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Public Attitudes Toward and Understanding
of Science and Technology (1999, 2001); University of Michigan, Survey of Consumer Attitudes (2004); University of Chicago, National Opinion Research
Center, General Social Survey (2006–12).
Science and Engineering Indicators 2014

Science and Engineering Indicators 2014
7-25
Overall, when these questions are combined into an over
all measure of “understanding of scientific inquiry,” the
2012 results are relatively low compared with those from
other years. About 33% of Americans could both correctly
respond to the two questions about probability and provide
a correct response to at least one of the open-ended ques
tions about experimental design or what it means to study
something scientifically. The 2010 survey represents a high
point (42%), and the current result is closest to scores seen
in the late 1990s but lower than scores in the other surveys
conducted since 2001 (table 7-9; appendix table 7-11). In
general, respondents with more education did better on the
scientific inquiry questions (figure 7-8; appendix table 7-12).
International Comparisons
The 2011 BBVA Foundation survey of 10 European
countries and the United States included the standard ques
tion about probability in the context of genetic disease. In this
instance, 61% of Americans could correctly indicate that a
child’s susceptibility to a genetic disease was unaffected by
whether the child’s siblings suffered from the disease. This
percentage is substantially lower than the 82% found in the
2012 GSS (see previous section). The 10-country European
average was 49%, but residents of both Denmark (81%)
and the Netherlands (79%) did better on this question than
Americans. UK residents (60%) had a score nearly identical
to that of U.S. residents (BBVA Foundation 2012a).
Recent surveys from Asia also touch on reasoning and
understanding. A 2010 Chinese survey reported that 49%
understood the idea of probability, 20% understood the need
for comparisons in research, and 31% understood the idea of
“scientific research” (CRISP 2010). The exact wording of
the questions used was not available, but given that much of
the survey replicated past U.S. questions reported in
Science
and Engineering
Indicators
, it seems likely that these ques
tions were similar to those asked in the United States. In
a July 2011 Japanese survey, 62% correctly answered a
multiple choice question about the use of control groups
in research experiments, whereas 57% answered correctly
in a follow-up December 2011 survey (NISTEP 2012). A
Korean survey used self-report measures of knowledge.
Koreans were most likely to say they knew “well” or “very
well” about diseases (54%) and least likely to say they knew
about nanotechnology (14%). Koreans were also unlikely to
say they knew about stem cell research (15%) and genetic
modification (20%) (KOFAC 2011).
Comparisons of Adult and K–12 Student
Understanding
The 2008 GSS included several additional questions
on the scientific process that also indicated that many
Americans lack an understanding of experimental design.
20
Between 29% and 57% of Americans responded correctly to
various questions measuring the concepts of scientific ex
periment and controlling variables. Only 12% of Americans
responded correctly to all the questions on this topic, and
nearly 20% did not respond correctly to any of them (NSB
2010). These data raise further questions about how well
Americans can reliably apply a generalized understanding of
experimental design across different situations. Responses to
these questions also allowed a comparison between adults’
understanding of experimentation and that of middle school
students tested on the same questions. On the three experi
mental knowledge questions in which direct comparison is
possible, adults’ scores were similar to a national sample of
middle school students on one question but were lower on
two others (NSB 2010).
Pseudoscience
Another indicator of public understanding about S&T
comes from a measure focused on the public’s capacity to
distinguish science from pseudoscience. Since 1979, sur
veys have asked Americans whether they view astrology
as being scientific. In 2012, about half of Americans (55%)
said astrology is “not at all scientific.” One-third (32%) said
they thought astrology was “sort of scientific,” and 10% said
it was “very scientific.” About 4% said they did not know. In
comparison, in 2010, 62% of Americans said that astrology
was not scientific, and this percentage has hovered between
55% (2012) and 66% (2004) since 1985. The only years
Figure 7-8
Understanding scientific inquiry, by respondent
characteristic: 2012
NOTES: See appendix table 7-11 for an explanation of understanding
scientic inquiry and questions included in the index. See appendix
table 7-12 for additional respondent characteristics.
SOURCE: University of Chicago, National Opinion Research Center,
General Social Survey (2012).
Science and Engineering Indicators 2014
Percent understanding scientic inquiry
≥ 3 college science/
mathematics courses
1–2 college science/
mathematics courses
No college science/
mathematics courses
No college
Graduate/professional
degree
Bachelor’s degree
Some college
High school diploma
< High school
Female
Male
All respondents
1009080706050403020100

7-26
Chapter 7. Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding
when a smaller percentage of respondents said that astrol
ogy was not at all scientific were in 1979, when 50% gave
this response, and in 1983, when 51% gave this response.
Respondents with more years of formal education and
higher income were less likely to see astrology as scientific.
For example, in 2012, 72% of those with graduate degrees
indicated that astrology is “not at all scientific,” compared
with 34% of those who did not graduate from high school.
Between 2010 and 2012, responses to the astrology ques
tion changed more among Americans with less education
and factual knowledge than among other Americans. For
example, in 2010, 79% of those high in factual knowledge
said astrology was “not at all scientific,” which was only
5% more than the 74% who gave this response in 2012. In
contrast, 52% of those with the lowest factual knowledge
said astrology was unscientific in 2010 compared with 35%
in 2012, which is a 17% change.
Age was also related to perceptions of astrology. Younger
respondents, in particular, were the least likely to regard as
trology as unscientific, with 42% of the youngest age group
(18–24) saying that astrology is “not at all scientific.” The
largest change, however, occurred in the 35–44 age group.
In 2010, 64% of respondents in this group said that astrology
was not scientific, whereas 51% gave this response in 2012,
which is a 13% change (appendix table 7-13).
21
International Comparisons
A 2010 Chinese survey had multiple questions about su
perstition. It found that 80% of respondents did not believe
in “fortune telling sticks,” 82% did not believe in face read
ing, 87% did not believe in dream interpretation, 92% did
not believe in horoscopes, and 95% did not believe in “com
puter fortune telling” (CRISP 2010).
Perceived Knowledge about Causes and
Solutions to Environmental Problems
U.S. Patterns and Trends
Along with actual knowledge, perceived knowledge may
also affect individuals’ attitudes and behaviors (Ladwig et
al. 2012; Griffin, Dunwoody, and Yang 2013). The 2010
GSS included two questions about how much Americans
believed they personally knew about the causes of and so
lutions to environmental problems. These questions used a
5-point scale that went from “1” for “know nothing at all”
to “5” for “know a great deal.” About 27% of Americans
chose a “4” or “5” when asked to assess their knowledge of
the causes of environmental problems, and 14% chose “4” or
“5” to describe their knowledge of environmental solutions
(figure 7-9; appendix tables 7-14 and 7-15).
International Comparisons
The 2010 International Social Survey Programme (ISSP)
allows for international comparisons of perceived science
knowledge. The 2010 ISSP asked questions in 31 countries,
including the United States, about perceived knowledge
bearing on environmental issues. The results show that resi
dents of most other countries surveyed expressed more con
fidence than Americans about their knowledge of the causes
of and solutions to environmental problems. The country
with the highest percentage of survey takers choosing “4”
or “5” on the 5-point scale for perceived knowledge of the
causes of environmental problems was Norway (50%).
The United States (27%) had a much lower percentage,
although its percentage was similar to that of many other
countries. Only Slovak Republic respondents reported less
knowledge, on average, than U.S. respondents about causes
of environmental problems. Residents of more than half of
the countries surveyed gave responses that suggested they
knew more. On the subject of environmental solutions, the
top countries saw about one-third of residents saying they
understood the solutions to environmental problems. The
United States (14%) was among the countries with the low
est percentages of residents who said they understood the so
lutions to environmental problems. Only the Russians (13%)
reported less knowledge, on average, than the Americans
about environmental solutions. It is also noteworthy that no
country’s citizens thought they knew more about solutions
than causes but that the difference in mean scores for the
two questions was almost always less than half a point on the
5-point scale used by the ISSP (figure 7-9; appendix tables
7-14 and 7-15).
Public Attitudes about S&T in General
How people perceive science can matter in a range of dif
ferent ways. It can affect the public’s willingness to fund
S&T through public investment, young people’s willing
ness to enter into S&T training and choose jobs in S&T,
and parents’ willingness to encourage such career paths.
Committing resources—whether time or money—to S&T
means trusting that our commitment will pay off over the
long term for ourselves, our families, and our communities.
General views about S&T may also affect our views about
specific technologies and research programs that could en
hance our lives or pose new risks.
This section presents general indicators of public attitudes
and orientations toward S&T in the United States and other
countries. It covers views on the promises of S&T and reser
vations about science, overall support for government fund
ing of research, confidence in scientific community leaders,
views of science and engineering as occupations, and views
about the degree to which specific fields and work activities
are scientific. Overall, the data make it clear that Americans
support both S&T and the people involved in S&T.

Science and Engineering Indicators 2014
7-27
Figure 7-9
Public self-assessment of knowledge about causes of and solutions to environmental problems, by country/
economy: 2010
NA = not available.
NOTES: Responses to
How much do you feel you know about the causes of/solutions to these sorts of environmental problems, where 1 indicates you fee
l
you know nothing at all and 5 indicates you feel you know a great deal?
Percentages may not add to 100% because of rounding.
SOURCE: International Social Survey Program, Environment Module (2010). See appendix tables 7-14 and 7-15.
Science and Engineering Indicators 2014
Cumulative percent
0 20 40 60 80 100
Cumulative percent
5 and 4
3
2 and 1
Can’t choose/no answer
5-point scale, where 5 = knows a great deal and 1 = knows nothing at all.
Knowledge about causes
Knowledge about solutions
Slovak Republic
Japan
Lithuania
South Korea
Czech Republic
Spain
Chile
Russia
Mexico
Bulgaria
Latvia
Argentina
Turkey
Belgium
South Africa
United Kingdom
Austria
Denmark
Croatia
Sweden
Taiwan
Germany
New Zealand
Philippines
France
Slovenia
Switzerland
Canada
Finland
Israel
Norway
United States
0 20 40 60 80 100
Turkey NA
Japan
Slovak Republic
Russia
Lithuania
Spain
Chile
Czech Republic
South Korea
Latvia
Belgium
Bulgaria
Germany
Taiwan
Denmark
Argentina
Austria
Sweden
United Kingdom
Switzerland
South Africa
Croatia
Israel
Mexico
Canada
New Zealand
France
Slovenia
Norway
Finland
Philippines
United States

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