The results of the Pew Science Survey tell us that American love science and they love scientists. Here's what the Pew researchers say in the summary ...
Americans like science. Overwhelming majorities say that science has had a positive effect on society and that science has made life easier for most people. Most also say that government investments in science, as well as engineering and technology, pay off in the long run.Matt Nisbet believes every word. He points out that the "experts" (e.g. he and his buddies) have been saying this for years. As he puts it in his most recent posting [On the Pew Science Survey, Beware the Fall from Grace Narrative].
And scientists are very highly rated compared with members of other professions: Only members of the military and teachers are more likely to be viewed as contributing a lot to society's well-being.
I shared a similar observation in a post yesterday, detailing the Pew results that indicate an almost unrivaled amount of cultural respect, admiration, authority, and deference to science and scientists.Matt can't understand why some of us are a bit skeptical. He doesn't seem to be the least bit concerned about a public who have "an almost unrivaled amount of cultural respect, admiration, authority, and deference to science and scientists" and yet reject evolution, the role of humans in global warming, and the importance of vaccinating your children. Matt never bothers to ask why a public that admires science so much would flock to homeopaths, buy Q-ray bracelets, and read the astrology column in the daily newspaper.
That's because Matt Nisbet isn't a scientist. He isn't skeptical and he never questions his own assumptions. Matt thinks that when people say they admire and respect science and scientists then that's the gospel truth. It never occurs to him to wonder what they mean by "science" and "scientists" and it never occurs to him to wonder about the obvious conflict between what people say in one question and what they say in another. How does he account for the fact that the general public does not support high quality science education for their children in spite of the fact they have a great respect for science?
One of the consequences of Matt's belief is that he proposes solutions to the science literacy problem based on the "fact" that the public has a great deal of confidence in scientists. For example, he quotes from an article he is about to publish in a science journal.
The implication is that relative to authority, deference, and respect, scientists have earned a rich bounty of perceptual capital. When controversies occur, the challenge is to understand how to use this capital to sponsor dialogue, invite differing perspectives, facilitate public participation, reach consensus when appropriate, learn from disagreement, and avoid common communication mistakes that undermine these goals.I disagree with the premise. I think that real public respect for science is much lower than the Pew summary indicates. To me the survey results suggests a general public that doesn't understand science very well and doesn't trust scientists.
I think that scientists, and everyone else, have to concentrate on educating the general public about the differences between science and superstition. I think that scientists have to work on gaining true respect and authority and that it's a huge mistake to assume they already have it. I'm not sure they ever had it in North America.
Part of gaining more respect involves cleaning our own house and educating the media. We also need to stop listening to the so-called expects on science communication.