Story at a glance
Although many expressed confidence in scientific experts to clarify what can be a confusing topic, U.S. researchers are concerned the public’s understanding of the scientific process has deteriorated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
More Americans reported talking about science news with others in 2021 than they did in 2017, according to a new according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.
The findings come as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to make headlines across the country.
The poll found 56 percent of Americans reported discussing science news with others a few times per month, and around 24 percent said they did so a few times per week. In comparison, just 44 percent of respondents said they talked about science news with others a few times a month in 2017.
The poll was conducted in December 2021.
However, a large majority of Americans — 78 percent of Democrats and an equal share of Republicans— expressed frustration about the level of political disagreement surrounding science news.
Throughout the pandemic, strategies aimed at mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and public response to the new vaccines differed along party lines.
According to survey results, “Democrats and independents who lean to the Democratic Party (33 percent) are more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners (20 percent) to say they are very interested in following science news.”
And despite the poll showing high levels of amazement and reassurance at scientific breakthroughs, many of those surveyed said they’re confused by what can be conflicting information.
Seventy-four percent of respondents said they can rely on experts to provide clarification, 55 percent said they turn to friends and family and just 44 percent said they can rely a lot or some on information about science from journalists.
Sixty-three precent of Democrats said they could rely at least some on science information from journalists, compared to just 23 percent of Republicans, mirroring partisan trust gaps documented in previous research.
The findings come as U.S. researchers raise concerns about the public’s understanding of the scientific process. A survey carried out by Elsevier and Economist Impact found that the researchers felt the public’s understanding of the process actually deteriorated during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite increased scrutiny of scientific findings.
“Over the past two years, we have all witnessed the very public debates on the latest COVID-19 research and who and what to trust and believe,” said Ann Gabriel, senior vice president of Global Strategic Networks at Elsevier, in a statement.
“According to the hundreds of U.S. researchers we connected with, expectations of the researcher’s role in scientific communication have shifted considerably over the last few years. Something very apparent in our study with Economist Impact was that in addition to their regular research activities, researchers now also work increasingly to combat false and misleading information as well as online abuse, and they want support to do so.”
Despite these developments, interest in science news — which can range from reports on artificial intelligence to space exploration — remains high among the American public.
The Pew survey found that among social media users, 33 percent say they follow a science-focused page or account compared with 26 percent who said the same in 2017.
In addition, three-quarters of those surveyed said they’re either somewhat or very interested in science news, with the interest outpacing that of other topics like business and finance, as well as sports and entertainment.
Researchers attribute a large part of the public interest in science news to education. More than 40 percent of postgraduates and 35 percent of college graduates express high interest in following science news, they wrote.
Men and those with higher family incomes are also more likely to express interest in this field.
A total of 14,497 U.S. adults completed the survey between Nov. 30 and Dec. 12, 2021.