A new poll by the Pew Research Center reports yet another huge gap between the American scientific community and the public at large. According to the NYTimes, the main areas are “climate change” (a euphemism for “global warming” as poor in content as “enhanced interrogation techniques” is to “torture”), evolution, and the value of research in general. Where scientists agree that humans are the product of natural selection and contribute significantly to global warming, the public assumes there is “lively debate” on these issues.
As the article indicates, this knowledge gap affects attitudes:
[The survey] found that at least two-thirds of Americans hold scientists and engineers in high regard, but the feeling is hardly mutual.
The report said 85 percent of science association members surveyed said public ignorance of science was a major problem. And by large margins they deride as only “fair” or “poor” the coverage of science by newspapers and television.
See? Them eggheads think we’re a bunch of ignoramuses! Kill their funding!
I joke. But scientists whose job has been to educate the public will not find this survey surprising nor my little joke very funny — financial support of valuable research (outside the interests of military and pharmaceutical industrialists) is all too tenuous. During last year’s election season, a group of prominent scientists were advocating a ScienceDebate 2008, a forum for competing candidates to demonstrate their understanding of important scientific issues and to propose relevant policies. Lawrence Krauss and Chris Mooney were out front promoting this forum:
When you think about it, the need for a debate on science is incontrovertible. It would reveal which candidates are best equipped to tackle contentious science-based issues, and it would help raise the level of scientific literacy across the board in this country.
Remember that debate? No? Cuz it didn’t happen. Of course it didn’t! I would be surprised if despite their enthusiasm Krauss and Mooney really thought such a debate would occur. Republican candidates had already embarrassed themselves on the topic of evolution; and John McCain, who had affirmed acceptance of evolutionary theory, was not interested in destroying his fragile support among fundamentalist Christians comprising his party’s base.
But, hey, he lost anyway. Obama is here, and he is all about Teh Science! No need to worry, right?