Scientists and public at odds over GMO safety, other science issues

Posted at 5:19 PM, Jan 29, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-30 17:26:56-05

Scientists and the public often don’t see eye-to-eye, according to a Pew Research survey released Thursday.

The scientists – they’re getting weary.

Genetically Modified foods (GMOs) were the biggest gap between scientists and the public. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans said that GMOs are unsafe to eat, while 9 in 10 scientists responded that they’re generally safe.

Scientists were also overwhelmingly in favor of animal research (89 percent), childhood vaccinations (86 percent), evolution (98 percent) and the presence of climate change (87 percent).

Americans in general were more divided. About half said they were in favor of animal research and 68 percent support vaccinations. There were sharp political divides on human evolution (65 percent agreeing) and climate change (50-50 split).

Overall, people said they like science, even if they don’t always believe the results. About 8 in 10 Americans said science makes life easier.

There was one issue where scientists and the public do meet eye-to-eye – the International Space Station. About two-thirds of all participants said that’s been a good investment.

Scientists are getting increasingly concerned about the state of their fields. A slight majority said now is a good time for science, down from three-fourths of scientists in 2009. Most said their greatest problem was a lack of funding.

Many said the public and policymakers just aren't listening.

More than 8 in 10 scientists cited the public’s lack of science knowledge is a major problem in their field. Most blamed poor science education in primary school.

For the study, Pew surveyed 3,748 members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and 2,002 members of the general public. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Gavin Stern is a national digital producer for the Scripps National Desk.