“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”
–Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist
Vaccines, global warming, and explosive population growth – these scientific issues represent some of the most politically loaded topics in social discourse today. Science doubters persist in their mistrust of mainstream science while the scientific community blasts naysayers’ ignorance in rejecting credible scientific research.
If clear-cut scientific evidence cannot convince skeptics, then what will?
The Pew Foundation surveyed the scientific membership of the American Academy of the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the general public about a variety of socially pressing, scientific issues. When asked about topics ranging from building more nuclear power plants to offshore drilling, unsurprisingly both the scientific community and the public diverged widely in their perspectives. The belief in the safety of consuming genetically modified foods produced the biggest divergence between the public and scientists — 33% versus 88%, respectively. Scientists and the public expressed more similar opinions on increased use of fracking with 31% of scientists versus 39% of the public in favor.
The Pew Foundation decided to go a step further by analyzing their results using other factors such as socio-demographic characteristics. Here they found that political ideology powerfully influenced opinions on topics such as power plant emissions, alternative energy development, global warming, offshore drilling and fracking. Respondents’ race and ethnicity weighed heavily on the perceptions of childhood vaccine safety and population growth hazards. Women demonstrated less support the use of animals in research than men. Adults ages 50 and older showed greater support for vaccine safety, but less support for climate change.
Understanding how and to what extent the general public’s attitudes may be influenced by politics, religion, age or education is essential to understanding the impact of social forces in shaping public opinion. Think of these social factors as a framework that constrains how people think, act and feel. Where we are embedded within that social framework underlies our perceptions of the world around us, and shapes our throught. As the Pew Foundation results show, certain ideological beliefs and demographic characteristics carry greater weight than others, depending on the scientific topic presented.
At New Notion, we can help you identify the underlying factors that help you predict how your audience might act or think. We push past over-simplified conceptions that fail to give useful, actionable results. By examining the social components that influence opinions, we gain a better understanding of our audience and how to target them. As the Pew Foundation survey shows, science may find itself losing the battle when pitted against ideology, but at least we can learn why.
Find the Pew Foundation’s full report here: