A poll released January 29 by the Pew Research Center (link) points out interesting differences and similarities between scientists and the general public in the U.S. on a variety of subjects of broad interest.
Scientists polled were selected from the membership of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the second-largest science organization in the world. More people belong to the American Chemical Society, but they are mainly chemists and chemical engineers, while the membership of AAAS includes scientist from all fields as well as a few non-scientists with an interest in science (a category that includes me; I’ve been a member of AAAS since 1979 but had nothing to do with the poll in question).
Some reports have tended to emphasize the differences between scientists and the public (see e.g. Tim McDonnell’s piece here), but in many cases the scientists and the public are more in tune than one might have thought.
The major areas of difference are highlighted in this chart:
The biggest single gap is on the question of whether genetically modified foods are safe to eat: 88 percent of the scientists surveyed say yes versus just 37 percent of U.S. adults in general. Another area of disagreement: While half the public thinks climate change is mainly due to human activity, 87 percent of scientists hold that view. (From other surveys the percentage is even higher among climate scientists.) This probably helps explain why only 32 percent of scientists favor expanded offshore drilling versus 52 percent of the general public. On the other hand, there’s low support among both the public and scientists for expanding the use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to extract oil and natural gas, with just 31 percent of scientists and 39 percent of the public in favor. And while substantially more scientists than non-scientists are concerned about the growing world population (by 82 to 59 percent), that’s still a solid majority of both.