Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Is science out of touch? Probably not as much as we thought ...

The Scientist just published a new column by myself and a number of colleagues from Wisconsin, Arizona State, and Jülich, arguing that the rifts between scientists and lay publics may not be as deep as some recent surveys suggest. Among the differences between a recent AAAS poll and other expert surveys? Question wording and sampling.
"In a recent AAAS/Pew survey, one in five U.S. scientists named the chronic difficulties in communicating with and educating lay audiences as one of the greatest U.S. scientific failures of the past 20 years. The real surprise, however, was that scientists do not seem too eager to find a solution -- at least not according to the AAAS/Pew data. Only about two in five AAAS scientists reported that they often talk to non-scientists about findings from their research, and only 3% often talk to reporters.

But are things really that bad? As part of two independent research teams, we interviewed nationally representative samples of scientific experts in nanotechnology, stem cell research and epidemiology. Data from these surveys suggest much more optimistic views among scientists about interactions with journalists, mass media, and lay audiences. At least two important differences in survey technique may explain these contrasting findings ..."

(The full column can be found here.)