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United States Science

Study Highlights Gap Between Views of Scientists and the Public 670

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-blame-the-schools dept.
ZeroSerenity was one of many to write with news of a survey from the Pew Research Center which sought to find out how Americans feel about science and contrast that with the opinions of actual scientists. The study showed that "nearly 9 in 10 scientists accept the idea of evolution by natural selection, but just a third of the public does. And while 84% of scientists say the Earth is getting warmer because of human activity, less than half of the public agrees with that." 27% of the respondents said that the advances of the US in science are its greatest achievement, down from 44% ten years ago. The study is lengthy, and it contains many more interesting tidbits. For example: scientists decry the level of media coverage given to science, and they also think research funding has too much influence on study results. 32% of scientists identify themselves as Independent, while 55% say they're Democrats and 6% say they're Republicans.
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Study Highlights Gap Between Views of Scientists and the Public

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  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Saturday July 11, 2009 @08:23AM (#28659357)

    We always try to keep in mind that correlation does not equal causation, but if that is so, what does the "55% of scientists are Democrats" statistic mean?

    And if we also look at global warming with the same critical eye, can we really say that humans are responsible for global warming when all we can really show is a strong correlation?

    I'm not a global climate change denier. There is definitely something going on. Whether it is caused by humans or not, it doesn't really seem to matter. Let's focus on making this place a nice place to live. Clean air, clean water, clean land. These are things no one is going to argue with. Let's start making this a better world for you and for me.

    • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday July 11, 2009 @08:30AM (#28659385) Homepage Journal

      And if we also look at global warming with the same critical eye, can we really say that humans are responsible for global warming when all we can really show is a strong correlation?

      The story is about science but English is still important. The statement in the fine summary (Way too lazy to RTFA before coffee) says that scientists believe that humans are warming the earth, it doesn't say humans are the only thing warming the earth.

      I'm not a global climate change denier. There is definitely something going on. Whether it is caused by humans or not, it doesn't really seem to matter.

      FAIL! Just looking at CO2 alone, humans put somewhere between twice and an order of magnitude more CO2 into the atmosphere than volcanism. Since it's easy to see using physics that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and we KNOW that CO2 released from volcanism is a significant heater (we can observe the localized effects intensely) then we KNOW that humans are a significant source of CO2, let alone all the other things that we make that nature never will.

    • by Nasarius (593729) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @08:33AM (#28659413)

      And if we also look at global warming with the same critical eye, can we really say that humans are responsible for global warming when all we can really show is a strong correlation?

      Oh, for fuck's sake.

      1. We, humans, are pumping over 27 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually.
      2. A corresponding increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration has been observed.
      3. The interaction of CO2 with IR radiation is well-established and well-understood by anyone with an understanding of simple chemistry.

      Which point, exactly, is in dispute?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        and yet the world has cooled over the last 10 years so one of your assumptions is wrong. Which one is it?
        • by bunratty (545641) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @09:01AM (#28659627)
          If the world has been cooling for the last ten years, someone should tell all that Arctic ice [nytimes.com] to stop melting. Hey, get with the program Arctic ice! Cooling, I tell you! Cooling!1!
          • by psnyder (1326089) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @10:34AM (#28660381)
            Someone should also tell the Antarctic ice to stop growing. Just Google antarctic ice [google.com] to see.

            The environment is so complex that you can't just point at some melting/growing ice and say we're all doomed/saved. These kinds of arguments skirt the main issues which are:
            1. How much is man influencing THIS warming trend and how much is part of the same natural cycle that has occured many times before?
              (Note: the current warming trend started well before the industrial revolution. Look at just about any data that includes 1000s of years (ice cores, Sargasso sea, etc) and you'll see it clearly. Are we increasing the natural trend already in motion? If so, by how much?)
            2. Does warming help are harm the life on Earth? Can we conserve the life it harms, and prepare for the life it helps?
            3. Does increased CO2 in the atmosphere help or harm life on Earth?
              The answer to that seems to be both as the biosphere has increased a great deal [slashdot.org] (plants are being fertilised) but the coral reefs are suffering due to ocean acidification.

            The final concern is that the Earth will get SO hot that there will be a tipping point where there will be an effect called a "positive feedback loop" in which the heat will somehow cause the Earth to get hotter and hotter. As almost all things in nature work in negative feedback with multiple buffers coupled with the fact that the Earth has been much hotter in the past, I find this scenario to be closer to Science Fiction than anything else.


            From the article:

            84 percent of scientists say the Earth is getting warmer because of human activity.

            This is true but it's spun, worded with an agenda. Many of those same scientists believe that the amount we're adding to the natural cycle is minuscule, insignificant, or may actually help the environment.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by Xyrus (755017)

              Antarctic ice has increased, but only very very slightly compared to the immense loss of ice in the north (which has a larger impact on overall global climate). The increase in ice in the south is actually an expected result of overall warming, since it increases precipitation (Antarctica is very dry and the cold temperatures prevents the air from holding much precipitation).

              And scientists aren't just pointing to the melting ice. That's just the most glaring observation that the climate is changing. There's

        • by HertzaHaeon (1164143) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @09:24AM (#28659787) Homepage

          and yet the world has cooled over the last 10 years so one of your assumptions is wrong. Which one is it?

          Alternatively, you're wrong. NASA's figures [nasa.gov] says you are.

          I can spot more than five decades of supposed cooling during the 20th century as per you definition, but as you can clearly see the overall trend is not cooling.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by CarpetShark (865376)

        1..3...Which point, exactly, is in dispute?

        I believe it's this one:

        4: The average human gives a crap about reality

      • by prisoner-of-enigma (535770) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @11:50AM (#28661131) Homepage

        Oh, for fuck's sake.

        This is not a good way to start a debate when you're trying to convince someone else of your point of view.

        1. We, humans, are pumping over 27 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually.
        2. A corresponding increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration has been observed.
        3. The interaction of CO2 with IR radiation is well-established and well-understood by anyone with an understanding of simple chemistry.

        Which point, exactly, is in dispute?

        A number of things. For example, you choose to focus on CO2. While CO2 is associated with warming, there are an almost limitless number of other factors that also can contribute to warming (or cooling, for that matter). For example (taken from Wikipedia):

        In order, Earth's most abundant greenhouse gases are:

                * water vapor
                * carbon dioxide
                * methane
                * nitrous oxide
                * ozone
                * CFCs

        When these gases are ranked by their contribution to the greenhouse effect, the most important are:

                * water vapor, which contributes 36â"72%
                * carbon dioxide, which contributes 9â"26%
                * methane, which contributes 4â"9%
                * ozone, which contributes 3â"7%

        So right there, even if you take the worst-case scenario for CO2 (26%), it's still far, far less of an effect than the best case for water vapor (36%). Shouldn't we be trying to reduce water vapor instead of CO2? Note that's a rhetorical question. I'm just trying to point out where your argument -- and insistence -- on CO2 fails to account for what may be the largest driver in climate change. CO2 just seems to be a popular whipping boy these days because it appeals to environmentalists who've always been against fossil fuels, anti-capitalists who are against Big Oil, and anti-Westerners who would be happy to see the Western powers (i.e. the U.S.) come to economic harm while they can handily skirt any emissions controls on their own industry (see Kyoto protocols).

        It also doesn't help that global warming proponents tend to be shrill absolutists who, instead of trying to convince people of their argument, are merely content to shout them down or denounce them as imbeciles. You may recall my first comment on your post. Your opener falls into such a category. It's not a way to win people over to your side even if you were to have all the facts (which you don't). Note this isn't a knock against you personally or the science of climatology; nobody has all the facts, because nobody fully understands all the variables (or even most of the variables) associated with our climate. We have theories and models that require constant tweaking, modifying, and massaging, and even then they fail to accurately predict both past and present weather trends. The disclosure that several high-profile warming proponents admitting to actually cooking their data (aka cherry picking) also doesn't help your cause, as it shows these people had political, economic, or ideological biases which drove them to commit scientific fraud.

        If you care to respond to this, try to make it reasoned and tactful. Have all your facts, and admit that the totality of our knowledge about what's going on with the climate is anything but 100% sure. Claiming you've got it all nailed down with unassailable data is the surest sign that you've turned into a zealot. Nobody listens to zealots, even if they are sometimes right.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Rob the Bold (788862)

      We always try to keep in mind that correlation does not equal causation, but if that is so, what does the "55% of scientists are Democrats" statistic mean?

      And if we also look at global warming with the same critical eye, can we really say that humans are responsible for global warming when all we can really show is a strong correlation?

      OK, I hadn't considered that being more liberal might lead one to a career in science, but why not. I was hypothesizing the converse, that being a "scientist" made them likely to be more liberal than the average citizen. Perhaps due to education level, exposure to a particular subculture, something like that.

    • by Biogenesis (670772) <overclocker DOT ... e DOT com DOT au> on Saturday July 11, 2009 @08:36AM (#28659441) Homepage

      Clean air, clean water, clean land. These are things no one is going to argue with.

      Unless cleaning up your act will cost you a lot of money, or you make a lot of money selling pollutants like oil.

      At least we have the history of CFCs to look back on as an example of how to clean up effectively. It's such a shame that CO2 is a) harder to avoid producing and b) more difficult to blame than CFCs were.

    • by Vellmont (569020) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @08:46AM (#28659515) Homepage


      what does the "55% of scientists are Democrats" statistic mean?

      From a purely scientific viewpoint, it doesn't really "mean" anything without more information. I could come up with a whole slew of theories to explain this statistic, but they'd all be extremely speculative since it's just one piece of information.

      The only thing it might mean (if the sample is accurate) is that the Republican party is extremely unpopular among scientists at the moment.

      can we really say that humans are responsible for global warming when all we can really show is a strong correlation?

      My understanding is we have a mechanism, a model, and a lot of evidence that shows global warming is caused by us. Where did you get the idea that it was ONLY a correlation?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by A.Gideon (136581)

      ...Whether it is caused by humans or not, it doesn't really seem to matter. Let's focus on making this place a nice place to live. Clean air, clean water, clean land. These are things no one is going to argue with. Let's start making this a better world for you and for me.

      Seems like a no-brainer, no? But that's pretty much the topic here: no brainers.

      Honestly, though, I see the failure of American thinking as far more of a problem than Global Warming. The latter can do a lot of damage to the environment to which we're used. But, aside from our own perspective, so what? A few cities get flooded? We might care, but the Earth won't.

      On the other hand, we need clear and decent thinking - analysis, reason, etc. - to deal with this issue. And the next. And the next. Maybe

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by photon317 (208409)

      I don't think the 55% Dem 6% Repub number says anything in particular about the validity of the parties or the bias of the science. I think more likely than not, this is the fallout of the obvious facts:Scientists spend a long time at universities, in many cases their whole lives. Universities have an extremely liberal population makeup, both among students and professors. Therefore most scientists are basically bathed in liberalism every day of their adult lives, and face pretty strong scorn from univer

  • Unscientific? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bob9113 (14996) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @08:32AM (#28659397) Homepage

    32% of scientists identify themselves as Independent, while 55% say they're Democrats and 6% say they're Republicans.

    Selecting a party instead of a candidate seems rather unscientific to me. I've probably voted for more Democrats than Republicans in my life, but it seems to me that the scientific approach is to study the evidence and select a candidate based on his record, stated positions, etc.

    Frankly, lately, it strikes me that the most scientific approach might be to vote against the incumbent regardless of party. Incumbency seems to strongly correlate with making decisions based on things other than evidence. Incumbents seem inclined -- increasingly over duration of incumbency -- to base their decisions on favors they owe and promises of future favors they can collect rather than on evidence and deep, objective consideration.

    • Re:Unscientific? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by MikeBabcock (65886) <mtb-slashdot@mikebabcock.ca> on Saturday July 11, 2009 @09:11AM (#28659687) Homepage Journal

      Personally I think its a more psychological effect, like those air fresheners that switch fragrances so you notice the effect more. If you leave the same person, party or attitude in office long enough, you stop noticing what they're doing in any positive light so you switch it up. After a while, the positive attributes of the new leader or party become cloudy and unnoticed and you do it again.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by PCM2 (4486)

      Frankly, lately, it strikes me that the most scientific approach might be to vote against the incumbent regardless of party. Incumbency seems to strongly correlate with making decisions based on things other than evidence. Incumbents seem inclined -- increasingly over duration of incumbency -- to base their decisions on favors they owe and promises of future favors they can collect rather than on evidence and deep, objective consideration.

      But your approach seems to rely on the assumption that you and your enlightened friends will be the only ones doing so. If everyone voted this way, then the incumbent would always lose. It would be, in effect, like passing a law that limited all candidates to a single term. This would only encourage politicians to grab as much as they can, as quickly as they can, and all the assumptive benefits of the first term (candidates basing their decisions on deep, objective consideration) would get tossed out the wi

  • Education Gap (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Myji Humoz (1535565) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @08:32AM (#28659399)

    Being a scientist is linked very closely to being educated at graduate level or higher. These views (acceptance of evolution, belief in human caused global warming, etc) are linked to the replacement of a prior belief (whatever the Bible implies) with a belief in a complicated theory that often doesn't make sense without serious study. A casual textbook explanation of evolution leads to questions of how complicated mechanisms such as sexual reproduction came into being, which leaves serious doubts about the validity of "scientific theories" in the minds of individuals with high school education.

    Should we be surprised at all that increased levels of education help people critically analyze and accept/deny scientific theories? Should we still be surprised that the more educated someone is, the more liberal (generally speaking) their political views tend to be? So long as the cutting edge of science involves far more math or heavy statistical theory than the average human is educated in, the layman who doesn't take time to research issues will have to either take faith in the word of "experts", or take faith in the "word of God, as brought to you by $Preacher.)

    • Re:Education Gap (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Bob9113 (14996) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @08:49AM (#28659529) Homepage

      Should we be surprised at all that increased levels of education help people critically analyze and accept/deny scientific theories? Should we still be surprised that the more educated someone is, the more liberal (generally speaking) their political views tend to be?

      I think it may explain being socially liberal -- recognizing that moral decisions are inherently difficult to make objectively. I am skeptical, however, that analytical skills correlate (or at least should correlate) strongly with being fiscally liberal. There seems to be decent evidence that being fiscally liberal, particularly in a society in economic decline, is hazardous.

      Then again, I guess there is ample evidence that neither Republicans nor Democrats are fiscally conservative.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by blueg3 (192743)

        Purely anecdotally, scientists (and other random educated people) don't agree on being fiscally liberal. They generally agree on being socially liberal (with a fair fraction of exceptions). But then, all the poll was asking about was party affiliation: it's not like you get much choice, and it's not like either choice is fiscally conservative.

    • Re:Education Gap (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Rob the Bold (788862) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @08:51AM (#28659555)

      Should we be surprised at all that increased levels of education help people critically analyze and accept/deny scientific theories? Should we still be surprised that the more educated someone is, the more liberal (generally speaking) their political views tend to be? So long as the cutting edge of science involves far more math or heavy statistical theory than the average human is educated in, the layman who doesn't take time to research issues will have to either take faith in the word of "experts", or take faith in the "word of God, as brought to you by $Preacher.)

      My father-in-law is a pretty good example of this. He didn't finish college at the traditional age and has gone on to be hyper-conservative, unquestioningly accepting religious teachings on non-religious subjects, including science and the physical world. E.g. I put on a pair of latex gloves before attempting to fix a poop-and-hair clog in the automatic litter box -- a reasonable precaution, I thought. He told me: "you know, viruses and bacteria go right through latex."

      I figured this finding would be rather important for the medical community to know so I checked it out. It seems that Christian fundamentalists teach that latex is germ-permeable so that they can say that condoms are useless to prevent STDs, so the only sure-fire way to avoid disease is total abstinence prior to lifelong marriage to another abstainer.

      I'm not opposed to religion, but I strongly feel that its teachings should only be used in a philosophical context, and not -- for example -- for informing our actions w.r.t. the physical/natural world.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by isa-kuruption (317695)

        I don't think your father-in-law's views have anything to do with his education level.

        I have known several priests and bishops in various faiths over the years, and many of them hold multiple doctorates and/or masters degrees (they have nothing better to do than read, one would think). One bishop (who has since passed) was psychologist for years before joining the priesthood. A priest here in Maryland is an electrical engineer, another priest has a masters in Russian literature (again, before he joined th

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Requiem18th (742389)

        I'm not opposed to religion, but I strongly feel that its teachings should only be used in a philosophical context, and not -- for example -- for informing our actions w.r.t. the physical/natural world.

        I beg your pardon but why should the teachings of religion have any value in philosophy? Compared with ancient Greek philosophy, let alone modern philosophy, religion is already just ignorant, unsophisticated, incongruent, biased, politicized, dishonest babble. Even the more philosophically inclined Asian religions are based not slightly in unfunded fantasies.

        This is to be expected as these beliefs were created by men without any modern tools to gain insight into the nature of the world and the mind, withou

      • Re:Education Gap (Score:5, Insightful)

        by dcollins (135727) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @10:10AM (#28660161) Homepage

        I'm not opposed to religion, but I strongly feel that its teachings should only be used in a philosophical context, and not -- for example -- for informing our actions w.r.t. the physical/natural world.

        Bone to pick: Religion is equally worthless in discussing philosophical subjects.

        I know that it's a popular rhetorical device to try and "fence in" religion to a limited domain of non-scientific topics such as ethics (as published most widely by Stephen J. Gould). But as someone who has degrees in both philosophy and mathematics, I've got to say this: belief in fictional, mythological spirits can only be damaging to serious discussions about any subject area.

    • Re:Education Gap (Score:5, Insightful)

      by anagama (611277) <obamaisaneocon@nothingchanged.org> on Saturday July 11, 2009 @09:14AM (#28659709) Homepage
      Advanced education (or advanced knowledge) in a specific subject, tends to be accompanied by an accurate sense of just how much one does not know. People with a rudimentary understanding of something often have a much higher sense of certainty than people with deep knowledge. The more you know, the more you know you don't know.

      With respect to the Republican/Democrat/Independent split, I find it interesting that a third identify as independents. I think that for at least the last couple decades, the Republicans have taken on so much of an "America Fuck Yeah" religiousity, that people who understand that the world is not simple because they have discovered in their own area, how much others misunderstand the topic and the findings and how much more there is to learn, are easily disillusioned by the Readers Digest platitudes that seem sufficient for the vast majority of people. As a result, those who actually know how little they know, can see how they are underinformed outside their area of expertise and are much more likely to accept that they may be wrong in any of their beliefs. Given the Republican party's penchant for unthinking dogmatism, it is easy to see why people who have become very expert in a specialized area would be hesitant to be associated with the Republican party. By the same token, Democrats can be just as bad, but there is some logic in going with the lesser evil (although I personally have decided against that path), and because the Democrats on average aren't such thundering bible-bangers, it seems natural enough to go that route.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MaskedSlacker (911878)

        Ideology is the elevation of conditional conclusion to the status of axiom--free markets are always better (they're not, only under certain conditions are they better--and under all others they aren't even free markets, regardless of the level of government involvement), unions are good (UAW, SEIU, became blood-sucking parasites destroying their hosts and acting ultimately against the interests of their members), regulation is good, regulation is bad, etc.

        All (well, maybe not all, but most) of both parties'

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 11, 2009 @08:36AM (#28659447)

    Pew used the AACS membership list to generate their list of "scientists" to poll. Anyone that wants to fork over $99 can join the AACS, including kindergarten teachers. Would you call the opinion of a kindergarten teacher the opinion of a scientist? The stated goals of AACS essentially define it as a left-leaning organization, so it's no surprise that 55% say they are Democrats.

    Perhaps Pew could not do their research on such a decidedly biased sample to begin with -- but I suppose that is asking too much these days.

    • Who? (Score:5, Informative)

      by damn_registrars (1103043) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Saturday July 11, 2009 @09:41AM (#28659937) Homepage Journal

      Pew used the AACS membership list to generate their list of "scientists" to poll

      I looked to find this "aacs" you refer to. I came up with several organizations:

      • American Association of Christian Schools
      • American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery
      • American Association of Cosmetology Schools
      • Advanced Access Content System
      • Annapolis Area Christian School
      • Ashtabula Area City Schools

      None of those organizations seem particularly scientific to me. Perhaps you meant the AAAS - American Association for the Advancement of Sciences [aaas]. And if we look at their membership requirements for the US [aaas.org] we'll see that only students can sign up for full membership at $99 per year. A K-12 teacher would pay $146, the same as the professional rate, though they do have a low-frills option at $99.

      The stated goals of AACS essentially define it as a left-leaning organization

      Not sure where you got their goals from, but we'll read their website: [aaas.org]

      The American Association for the Advancement of Science,
      "Triple A-S" (AAAS), is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science around the world by serving as an educator, leader, spokesperson and professional association. In addition to organizing membership activities, AAAS publishes the journal Science, as well as many scientific newsletters, books and reports, and spearheads programs that raise the bar of understanding for science worldwide.

      The same page continues on with some broad goals:

      AAAS Mission
      AAAS seeks to "advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people." To fulfill this mission, the AAAS Board has set these broad goals:

      * Enhance communication among scientists, engineers, and the public;
      * Promote and defend the integrity of science and its use;
      * Strengthen support for the science and technology enterprise;
      * Provide a voice for science on societal issues;
      * Promote the responsible use of science in public policy;
      * Strengthen and diversify the science and technology workforce;
      * Foster education in science and technology for everyone;
      * Increase public engagement with science and technology; and
      * Advance international cooperation in science.

      That doesn't really seem particularly liberal or conservative from a political standpoint, unless conservatives have a decidedly anti-science-education standpoint.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by blueg3 (192743)

        The organization he's referring to is the American Association of Concerned Scientists -- which is not the organization used in TFA, but is an open-membership, left-leaning organization of scientists.

  • Education (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Smivs (1197859) <smivs@smivsonline.co.uk> on Saturday July 11, 2009 @08:37AM (#28659453) Homepage Journal

    The disparity between the views of scientists and 'the public' is another illustration of the generally poor quality of education. This is evident here in the UK, and perhaps even more in the US, where the base quality of education is often questionable, and often the subject matter is 'taught' in a far from sensible way. Just look at the debate over how (or even if) evolution should be taught. The populace are never going to be able to participate in informed debate from a position of ignorance, but that is exactly what is currently happening. This whole mess is made even worse by those in power (politicians) putting their own agendas before fact and truth, and by putting short term (political) considerations above the long term good (see the 'debate' raging over global warming for a good example of this). The public will never catch up with the level of appreciation and understanding scientists have of these matters unless their underlying knowledge and education is adequate, and right now it clearly isn't.

  • by PieSquared (867490) <isosceles2006 AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday July 11, 2009 @08:37AM (#28659455)
    Hrm... I'd like to see exactly how they arrived at *that* number...

    They're not counting engineers as scientists, are they?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cheebie (459397)

      Given the poor quality of the questions in that poll, almost any results are possible. They forced you to choose between 'natural process' and 'guided by a supreme being' as exclusive opposites. How about if you believe (as most religious people do) that natural processes are guided by a supreme being. The nature and tone of the question will cause most to choose the supreme being option, when they probably are thinking 'both'.

      The other problem is that this particular issue has been latched onto and expl

      • by wsherman (154283) * on Saturday July 11, 2009 @10:00AM (#28660089)

        Given the poor quality of the questions in that poll, almost any results are possible.

        On the subject of poor quality questions, one of the the questions to test the public's knowledge of science [people-press.org] was

        Electrons are smaller than atoms. (True/False)

        46% of the general public said true and, at first, I was thinking that for more than half of the general public to not understand about atoms and electrons was a pretty poor showing.

        But then I got to thinking about whether an electron is, in fact, smaller than an atom. Sure, the rest mass of an electron is much smaller than the rest mass of an atom. Maybe that's what the question was trying to ask. But the way the question is worded seems to imply a spatial size. When you're dealing with objects as light as electrons, the whole notion of size is non-intuitive (probability distributions described by wave functions).

        Maybe they had their reasons for not simply asking whether an electron was more massive than an atom - or maybe whoever put the survey together some gaps in their own science education.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by donaggie03 (769758)
          Basic U.S. science education teaches that an electron is one of many parts that make up an atom. There are zero or more electroncs, plus protons and neutrons. Basic logic says that if one thing is inherently a part of something else, then the first thing must be smaller. You're thinking to hard to justify how 54% of Americans could get that question wrong. The sad truth is that 54% of Americans couldn't care less about basic education.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ceoyoyo (59147)

        "They forced you to choose between 'natural process' and 'guided by a supreme being' as exclusive opposites. How about if you believe (as most religious people do) that natural processes are guided by a supreme being. The nature and tone of the question will cause most to choose the supreme being option, when they probably are thinking 'both'."

        If your goal is to assess the level of magical thinking in a population, that's not such a bad split. The problem would arise if you got the natural-processes-guided

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        The view you hold -- "God set up the rules and conditions so that what he wanted to happen would happen" -- is called deism, and it is emphatically not what people mean when they say "guided by a supreme being." The latter is intelligent design, and it's been a depressingly successful stealth tactic for creationists. Deism is perfectly compatible with a scientific study of life. ID says basically, when you find a hard biological problem, throw up your hands and say "Goddidit."

  • Define "scientist" (Score:3, Informative)

    by Rogerborg (306625) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @08:40AM (#28659473) Homepage

    The "Pew Research Center" canvassed the membership of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The AAAS publishes the Science journal which has a distinctly liberal bias.

    Note carefully: I'm not saying that's a bad thing. However, it means that the sample is biased. I'm actually surprised that as many as 6% of respondents identified themselves as Republicans.

  • by EWAdams (953502) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @08:40AM (#28659479) Homepage

    The fact that the media gives equal time and access to creationists, conspiracy theorists, homeopathic medicine and various other tinfoil hat whackmobiles does the body politic no favors whatsoever. There's no emphasis on rigorous thought. Sentiment and ratings trump accuracy and logic.

    Critical thinking should be a required course in every high school in the land, and if you fail you don't get a diploma. But the churches would scream bloody murder. The last thing they want is children thinking for themselves.

    • by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Saturday July 11, 2009 @09:18AM (#28659747)

      The last thing they want is children thinking for themselves.

      That applies to any self-perpetuating group. If you catch people when they're too young to make distinctions, you can implant your ideas down at the level of attitudes where they're very, very hard to get at later. Relatively few people who were raised in a non-religious environment ever acquire faith later in life: such an adult will perceive much of a typical religious belief system to be as corny, fictitious and unjustifiable as it really is.

      Conversely, the bulk of people who were raised in religion die still believing it. As one of the aforementioned people who was not brought up in a God-fearing household, I often wonder how people who have strong religious beliefs manage to accommodate such cognitive dissonance. That is, how they rationalize the very evident inconsistencies between their programmed view of the Universe, and what actually is.

  • by jgeada (1304637) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @09:00AM (#28659621)
    I found it very revealing to see the statistics about what the public thought the scientific consensus is. Paraphrasing from the original article:
    - Public thinks 60% of scientists agree that evolution occurred, but actually 97% of scientists support evolution.
    - Public thinks 56% of scientists agree that global warming is human caused, but actually 84% of scientists support the theory that human activity has and is causing global warming.

    This nearly 50/50 split in the public's view leads me to think: what is the primary source of science news for most of the public? The press. And most of the time, particularly on controversial issues, the press just presents two talking heads with opposing views as the current state of affairs. If you didn't know better from other sources you'd have to assume that the scientific consensus was split 50/50.
  • by MikeBabcock (65886) <mtb-slashdot@mikebabcock.ca> on Saturday July 11, 2009 @09:07AM (#28659661) Homepage Journal

    The research for these types of stories is horrible.

    What do I care if 84% of scientists believe the earth is getting warmer from human activity? My father's a scientist who studies product safety. His opinion on global warming is no more educated than the rest of the public's but he's a "scientist." A marine biologist might observe changes in habitat and deserve an opinion, but a chemist at a drug research lab probably doesn't rank above my own knowledge of global warming.

    Polling groups of people with a similar job title in totally different fields is misleading at best.

    • Yep (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @10:34AM (#28660379)

      I work at a university and so work with PhDs all the time. There are a good many of them who think they know everything, but in reality have extremely limited knowledge outside of their narrow field. They'll be happy to tell you how you should of all sorts of thing, but if you investigate, you discover they know fuck all about what they are talking about. That they have a PhD means they are highly educated in a very specific field. It doesn't mean they are masters of everything. Some understand that, others do not.

      As an example we have a massive amount of wireless APs on our campus, hundreds per building. The idea is to provide total coverage. This necessitates they be placed all over, and not just in wiring closets and such. There are some in offices. We have a few professors that demanded the APs be moved, or who placed shields over them to "protect" themselves from the radiation. These are engineering professors, by the way, not art professors. So while this is even in their general domain, they still don't know about it and are as subjected to the same pseudo-science BS as the general public.

      While it might be a comforting idea to think scientists are all very smart, reasonable people, that just isn't the case. They are human like the rest of us, and there are plenty of them who don't know what they are talking about save for a small area, and even some who don't know what they are talking about in their area. Science works not because scientists are superhuman, but because the process of strong inference allows us to test and refine our knowledge. The process of science is what is amazing, not necessarily the people who work in it.

      Feynman's biography has some great commentary on this and the dangers of "averaging" opinions with people. That just because you ask a lot of people, doesn't mean that you got the right answer.

      As an example, suppose around the 1950s you asked 100 scientists about an atomic theory and 90% thought it was right, 10% thought it was wrong. Must be right huh? Now what if I told you the 10 that thought it was wrong were Bohr, Einstein, Feynman, Teller, Oppenheimer, Bethe, and so on. Maybe then you aren't so sure. Just because 90 random scientists think something, doesn't mean they are right and the people who actually developed the technology are wrong.

      Science is not a democracy, you don't vote on what the right answer is.

      So I'm with you, I really hate these stories of "Well X% of profession Y believe this!" That is marketing bullshit. "4 out of 5 dentists agree this is the toothpaste for you!" Ok well so what? Maybe 4 out of 5 dentists are just mediocre and the top 20% know that it is bunk. Any time I hear something telling me what percentage of peopel like something or believe something, I feel like I'm being sold something, not being informed.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Bemopolis (698691)

        I work at a university and so work with PhDs all the time. There are a good many of them who think they know everything, but in reality have extremely limited knowledge outside of their narrow field.

        Yeah, that's not really the point. The reason why Ph.D.'s would be expected more trustworthy on a topic outside their expertise (certainly more than a member of the general populus who is out of his element) is that they have a demonstrable ability to construct a hypothesis and support it through facts and arg

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Once you know the scientific method and maybe have some basic background knowledge in general science, math and stats, you should be able to reasonably assess any scientific argument. If you can't, that argument is not clear enough.

      You may not be able to (immediately) do useful work in a foreign field, but you should be capable of judging the strength of any given result.

      So yes, your father, if he is a product safety scientist and not a technician, should know some stats and is probably quite knowledgeable

  • I fail to see ... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LaughingCoder (914424) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @09:08AM (#28659669)
    ... how any *real* scientist could be anything but independent. Political parties subscribe to belief systems that are principally about self-preservation and perpetuation. Aligning oneself with one party or the other would seem to violate everything science is about. FWIW, I am registered unenrolled (a.k.a. independent) and typically vote anti-incumbent unless one or the other candidate truly inspires me (rare) or scares me (frequent).
  • by FudRucker (866063) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @10:13AM (#28660191)
    shamelesly stolen from another website, i am not plagiarizing this, (i lay no claim to authoring it, but i love it)

    So here's the thing: We have 46 chromosomes. Our nearest great ape relatives have 48. On the surface, it looks like we must have lost two. But that's actually a huge problem. Made up of organized packs of DNA and proteins, chromosomes don't just up and vanish. In fact, it's doubtful any primate could survive a mutation that simply deleted a pair of chromosomes. That's because chromosomes are to the human body what instruction sheets are to inexpensive, flat-pack furniture. If you're missing one screw, you can still put that bookcase together pretty easily. But if the how-to guide suddenly jumps from page 1 (take plywood panels out of box) to page 5 (enjoy bookcase!), you're likely to end up missing something pretty vital. All this left scientists with a thorny dilemma: How could we have a common ancestor with great apes, but fewer chromosomes?

    Turns out: The chromosomes aren't missing at all. Genetic investigators caught the first whiff of the prodigal chromosomes' scent in 1982. That year, a paper published in the journal Science described a very funny phenomenon. Researchers knew all chromosomes had distinctive signatures; patterns of DNA sequences that can be reliably found in specific spots, including in the center and on the ends. These end-cap sequences are called telomeres. Telomeres are like the little plastic tips that keep your shoelaces from unravelling. They protect the ends of chromosomes and hold things together. Given that important function, you wouldn't expect to find telomeres hanging out on other parts of the chromosome. But that's exactly what the 1982 study reported. Looking at human chromosome 2, the scientists found telomeres snuggled up against the centromere (the central sequence). What's more, these out-of-place human telomeres were strikingly similar to telomeres that can be found, in their proper location, on two great ape chromosomes.

    This evidence laid the groundwork for a brilliant discovery. Rather than falling apart, the two missing chromosomes had fused together. Their format changed, but they didn't lose any information, so the mutation wasn't deadly. Instead, scientists now think, the fusion made it difficult for our ancestors to mate with the ancestors of chimpanzees, leading our two species to strike out alone. In the two decades since the original study, more evidence has surfaced backing this up, which leads us to 2005, when the chimpanzee genome was sequenced around the same time that the National Human Genome Research Institute published a detailed survey of human chromosome 2. We can now see extra centromeres in chromosome 2 and trace how its genes neatly line up with those on chimpanzee chromosomes 12 and 13. It's a great example of evidence supporting the common descent of man and ape. [EOF]

    So all you christians are wack thinking some imaginary god did it.
  • by Anon E. Muss (808473) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @10:17AM (#28660221)

    The Half Sigma [halfsigma.com] blog points out a serious flaw in the design of this poll...

    There is a Pew research study purporting to poll "scientists." The question I immediately want answered is, what's a "scientist?" The answer, as far as Pew is concerned, is anyone who is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science [aaas.org].

    The AAAS is a liberal organization with stated goals such as "Increase diversity in the scientific community," "Use science to advance human rights" (sometimes in collaboration with leftist-sympathizing Amnesty International), "Sustainable Development" and "Women's Collaboration".

    You don't in any way have to be a real scientist to be a member of this organization. All you need to do is send them $146. School teachers are especially encouraged to join, and no one should confuse a grade K-12 school teacher with a real scientist.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      You don't in any way have to be a real scientist to be a member of this organization. All you need to do is send them $146. School teachers are especially encouraged to join, and no one should confuse a grade K-12 school teacher with a real scientist.

      It's interesting that you take another blog as the gospel here. Could it be that you want this study to be flawed, so you're looking for any tenuous excuse to discredit the methodology? I've seen this same argument repeated here numerous time. Did none of you bother to actually look at the study methodology? It specifically excluded AAAS members that were primary and secondary level educators.

      The AAAS is a liberal organization with stated goals such as "Increase diversity in the scientific community," "Use science to advance human rights" (sometimes in collaboration with leftist-sympathizing Amnesty International), "Sustainable Development" and "Women's Collaboration".

      I challenge you to support your claims. You have several quoted items there, but I sure don't see those quotes on t

  • by AP31R0N (723649) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @10:37AM (#28660405)

    i don't know if this is the case in other cultures, but in America, we seem to hate anyone who is better than us at anything. We are incapable of simply being happy for each other or grateful for what we have. This seems especially true of intelligence/education. We HATE smart people. If you correct someone's grammar, spelling, punctuation or the like... instead of making a note to try to do it right... they'll call you pedantic or a grammar snob or elitist or something else. A semi-educated person will call you a prescriptivist. Anything to avoid admitting ignorance or that you're right. It's odd to me that a nation so obsessed with accomplishment, despises anyone who accomplishes.

    Then there are the one uppers. If you tell them your house is yellow, their house is yellower... or they've seen a house that was yellower. Can't you just nod and say, "oh, yellow house, nice"? If you have a headache today, they have migraines everyday!

    There was a study saying that most Americans would rather that all their coworkers make 50K and for them to make 100K, than for everyone at the company to make 200K.

    We also hate anyone/thing that makes us question our beliefs. We think that because we have the right to have any belief that our beliefs should be unquestioned. That somehow we have the right to spout our beliefs at others, while anyone disagreeing with us must be silent. Free of speech/religion seems to apply only to the privileged Christians. The rest of us should just shut up and be grateful to be allowed to live. After all, we'd be put to death in Iran, right?

When you make your mark in the world, watch out for guys with erasers. -- The Wall Street Journal

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