While each American political party has positions that are determined to undermine science (food, medicine and energy for Democrats, evolution and global warming for Republicans) their constituents still respect scientists overall, even if they don't accept the legitimacy of some fields.
While most Americans could be a bit more knowledgeable in the ways of science, a majority are interested in hearing about the latest scientific breakthroughs and think highly of scientists.
The National Science Foundation's biannual survey of over 2,200 people is part of their Science and Engineering Indicators that they do for the president and Congress.
According to the survey, more than 90 percent of Americans think scientists are "helping to solve challenging problems" and are "dedicated people who work for the good of humanity."
That's good news for government-funded academia and corporate research and development also, says lead author John Besley, an associate professor in advertising at Michigan State University. "It can help ensure funding and help attract future scientists."
When only 16 percent of current scientists will get jobs in academia, we don't need more, but the ones currently employed want their incomes to go up, and that means more funding is always needed.
And it's good news for the NSF when it goes to ask for more money to do science education. Unsurprisingly, not all Americans get basic science. In physics and biology, Americans got 7 out of 9 questions correct. That doesn't sound great but that needs to be put into context - American adults lead the world in science literacy and that literacy has tripled since 1988. Americans also didn't know where Sochi was a week ago, this does not mean they wouldn't know how to find it if it matters.
Yet American political bodies love self-loathing about science, it helps when they are claiming that education is "dismal" and that American children are being left behind even though they score better on standardized tests than they did at any point in the past. So they engage in deficit thinking about simple facts, such as that only 74 percent of those queried knew that the Earth revolved around the sun, while fewer than half (48 percent) knew that human beings developed from earlier species of animals.
Some of the other highlights of the survey include:
- A majority of Americans – more than 90 percent – say they are "very interested" or
"moderately interested" in learning about new medical discoveries.
- The United States is strong in the use of what's known as
"informal science education." Nearly 60 percent of Americans have visited a zoo/aquarium, a natural history museum or read science sites like Science 2.0.
- Nearly 90 percent of those surveyed think the benefits of science outweigh any potential dangers.
- About a third of the respondents think science and technology should get more funding.