Public Opinion on Science and Technology – 2016

Every two years, the National Science Board instructs the National Science Foundation to both aggregate reputable public opinion research and to conduct a comprehensive, scientific survey of more than 1,500 Americans. Results are presented to the president and Congress. So let’s look at what Americans really think.

[invicta_heading primary_line_html_elem=”h1″ alignment=”left” size=”small” primary_line=”Opinion on Benefits of Scientific Research”]
  • 85% of Americans “strongly agreed” (25%) or “agreed” (60%) that “even if it brings no immediate benefits, scientific research that advances the frontiers of knowledge is necessary and should be supported by the federal government”
[invicta_heading primary_line_html_elem=”h1″ alignment=”left” size=”small” primary_line=”Opinion on Funding of Scientific Research”]
  • 39% of respondents said we are spending “too little,” 45% said the amount was “about right,” and 10% said it was “too much” on supporting scientific research.
  • Americans with relatively higher levels of education, more income, and more science knowledge are particularly likely to support funding scientific research. For example, 76% of those who had not completed high school agreed that funding was needed, but 90% of those with graduate degrees expressed this view.
[invicta_heading primary_line_html_elem=”h1″ alignment=”left” size=”small” primary_line=”Drinking Water and Pollution”]
  • Drinking water pollution topped the list of issues about which Americans were most likely to “worry” a “great deal” about (55%) in 2015. Worry was also relatively high for “pollution of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs” (47%).
  • Smaller proportions expressed a “great deal” of worry about “air pollution” (38%), “extinction of plant and animal species” (36%), and the “loss of tropical rainforests” (33%). Americans expressed relatively low levels of concern about “global warming” (32%)
[invicta_heading primary_line_html_elem=”h1″ alignment=”left” size=”small” primary_line=”Opinion on Climate Change”]
  • 44% see “global warming” as a “very serious” future problem for the United States. Another 34% (78% in total) responded that the threat was at least “somewhat serious.” Even more respondents (83%) said they thought global warming would be a threat to “the world.”
  • “Dealing with global warming” has been at or near the bottom of the public’s priorities for the president and Congress since at least 2007. About 38% of Americans said it should be a priority in 2015, although this is up from a low of 25% in 2012 and similar to the previous high of 38% in 2007.
[invicta_heading primary_line_html_elem=”h1″ alignment=”left” size=”small” primary_line=”Basic Science Facts Quiz”]
  • Americans were able to correctly answer an average of 5.8 of the 9 items (65%) of NSF’s factual knowledge questions. This score has remained nearly identical in recent years.
  • Men (69%) tend to answer somewhat more factual science knowledge questions in the GSS [General Social Survey] correctly than women do (61%).
  • 49% of Americans correctly indicated that “human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals,” and 42% correctly indicated that “the universe began with a big explosion”
  • Just 7% of Americans said they viewed U.S. K–12 STEM education as among the “best in the world,” and just 22% said they thought it was “above average.” About 39% saw it as “average,” and 29% saw it as “below average.”
  • A companion survey of members of the scientific community was even more pessimistic, with just 1% seeing U.S. STEM education as among the “best in the world,” and 15% seeing it as “above average.”
  • The proportion of Americans who say that they worry “a great deal” about the quality of the environment was at 34% in 2015, up slightly from the low point of 31% in 2014, but still low compared with other years since 2001.
  • Data indicate that the proportion of Americans who say that the environment should be given priority over economic growth increased to 50% in 2014 and 46% in 2015 from a low of 36% in 2011. This is still below previous highs of 57%…
  • 41% of Americans expressed “a great deal of confidence” in leaders of the scientific community, 49% expressed “only some confidence,” and 8% expressed “hardly any confidence at all.”
  • In general, men (45%) are more confident in the scientific community than women (37%). Also, those with more education and income are more confident than those with less, and young respondents are more confident than older respondents
  • Most Americans think their country’s scientific achievements are relatively special, with 15% labeling them as among the “best in the world” and 39% labeling them as “above average”—that is, 54% viewed these achievements as at least “above average.” The military was again the only group seen more positively, with 76% seeing it as at least “above average” in the world.