Most scientists think they should be active in public debates

February 15, 2015
The vast majority of scientists, one shown here, in the United States (87 percent) think they should play an active role in debates on public policy, according to a poll released Sunday

The vast majority of scientists—87 percent—think they should play an active role in debates on public policy, according to a poll of US scientists released Sunday.

Forty-three percent of those queried by the Pew Research poll also felt it was important to engage with the media.

The survey was given to 3,748 US-based scientists who are members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which publishes the journal Science and is holding its annual meeting in San Jose, California.

"Science topics are increasingly becoming part of the public debate and scientists clearly feel they should be in the arena," said Lee Rainie, Pew Research Center director of internet, science and technology research.

In the poll, 71 percent believed the public has either some or a lot of interest in their specialty area, and 53 percent said there was a lot or some debate in the news about their field.

And when it came to how science news is portrayed in the media, many had concerns.

A total of 79 percent of AAAS scientists said it was a "major problem for science" that news reports do not distinguish between scientific findings that are well-grounded and studies that are not.

More than half (52 percent) said simplification of scientific findings was a major problem for science in general.

Almost half (47 percent) use social media to talk about science or read about scientific developments, younger scientists were more likely than older ones.

A full 70 percent of the scientists under age 35 said they use social media, compared with 44 percent of those ages 50-64 and 30 percent of those 65 and older.

"What is really interesting in this data is to see the generational differences that are present," said Cary Funk of the Pew Research Center.

However, Dominique Brossard, chair of the department of life sciences communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, pointed out that because the poll surveyed members of AAAS, an advocacy group, they do not represent scientists as a whole.

"Scientific communities are very different from one institution to another," Brossard said during a panel discussion of the findings.

"So it should certainly not be surprising to see that 80 percent of their members think that you need to be an advocate for science. This is what the organization stands for," she told reporters.

She presented findings from a poll that surveyed working scientists at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, that showed far fewer scientists were active on social media.

"We had 10 percent of our scientists that were blogging about topics relevant to their research, and 12 percent that were tweeting about research often or occasionally."

She said the findings showed that engagement on social media was "still not the norm."

Explore further: Poll shows giant gap between what public, scientists think

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18 comments

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JoeBlue
1 / 5 (5) Feb 15, 2015
Sure, they can run for office just like anyone else.
Doug_Huffman
1 / 5 (5) Feb 15, 2015
Unfortunately the education establishment unions have promoted credentialism and authoritarianism as "scientists say ..." The epithet scientist is meaningless and impeaching to the informed skeptic.
Benni
3 / 5 (4) Feb 15, 2015
Wherever there is a lack of knowledge (science), mysticism prevails, this being the reason the scientific community should never be absent from the public view.

Voids never stay empty for long, something always flows into them, in science we call this the randomness of entropy. Humanity has always been served well when depths of the minds of ones such as Albert Einstein who brought us General Relativity than the science fiction of Ron Hubbard who brought us Scientology. Who would argue which of these two very public figures have better served mankind.
mndaffy
3.2 / 5 (5) Feb 15, 2015
Well tell them to put their money where their mouth is and force the journals to publish all scientific articles to the general public and not hide them behind a paywall. That would be a good start. Scientific journals shouldn't just be for academics, especially if they want a voice in a public forum.
sirchick
4.8 / 5 (4) Feb 15, 2015
Science topics are the most misunderstood by the general population - especially when the word "nuclear" or "radiation" is used. People immediately go "NO" the moment nuclear power is discussed.

Scientists should be the main people to discuss where the budget goes, the plans for future energy etc, certainly not the general population who know nothing.
Lesea
3.1 / 5 (12) Feb 15, 2015
scientists think they should be active in public debates
The can be active as everyone else individual - but this is not what they're payed for with publics. The scientists are payed for unbiased research. The scientists managed to bring the world on the verge of new global nuclear war with their ignorance of cold fusion and another findings. And most of their ideas of recent decades turned just plain wrong. In this context the reading of articles The era of expert failure by Arnold Kling, Why experts are usually wrong by David H. Freeman and Why the experts missed the crash by Phill Tetlock may be useful.
Lesea
3.3 / 5 (14) Feb 15, 2015
BTW Nearly all scientists communicate with publics already so I don't see any problem here. But what the scientists actually want is the more payed space in official media for spreading of their political agenda, which I strongly disagree - we have enough of informational monopoly of official science already.
sirchick
5 / 5 (4) Feb 15, 2015
BTW Nearly all scientists https://pbs.twimg...xEwI.png so I don't see any problem here. But what the scientists actually want is the more payed space in official media for spreading of their political agenda, which I strongly disagree - we have enough of informational monopoly of official science already.


When there is a TV debate in UK regarding politics and the subject is lets say energy crisis. We often have some politicians, and some reporters/media people who answer Qs from the audience. Almost never is there a well respected and well known scientist (not many are well known which is the problem in the first place). Scientists just aren't seen like celebrities even though they bring the world everything we have.

Although i imagine fame would distract anyway. I prefer to go to work without media chasing me :P Perhaps there are positives to not being highly known like Einstein is, specially in the era of social networking.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (4) Feb 15, 2015
"US scientists and legal experts are calling for a strong, international authority to regulate any man-made interventions meant to combat global warming, amid fears that the technology could be harmful to the environment."
http://news.yahoo...716.html

Scientists don't want to debate, they want to dictate.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (4) Feb 15, 2015
There are scientists active in public debate. One is the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
They are the ones who promoted the use to trans-fatty acids to replace coconut oil in cinema popcorn.
Oops. They were wrong.
Scientists want the ear of the politicians, and our money, so force their 'facts' upon society.

Scientists could start a consulting business and provide expert advice to those would pay. But then they would be subjected to the market place of ideas and if their ideas fail, they won't have tenure and may be fired.
Vidyaguy
3.6 / 5 (5) Feb 15, 2015
As a scientist with many years in many disciplines, my experience is that "most scientists" are subject to the same limitations that hamper the general public. Further, their experience and expertise tends to be too narrow; their opinions too strong relative to their actual integrated knowledge. Finally, just as it has been for decades, funding and opportunities to publish determine how much and in what fields "most scientists" work. That these key motivators are correlated with the agenda of governments should be obvious to even a casual observer; even funding within corporations is highly reflective of government priorities. The politicization of science has reached a point where even scientists do not examine their own motives very closely (or, perhaps, they just don't want to examine that very closely), and emotion begets activism when career opportunities are uncertain.
Protoplasmix
5 / 5 (2) Feb 15, 2015
You'd think the scientific advancement would be contribution enough.

But the last time half of the world's species vanished was 65 million years ago, likely caused by the combination of a 100,000 year long volcanic eruption and an asteroid impact [1], data we'd be oblivious to without science. Look what we've done to the planet in just a little under 300 years [2].

Currently there are two competing theories as to what makes the world go 'round. General relativity should be the obvious choice. To the 13% – please reconsider stepping up. Please.

=-=-=
1. http://www.prince...4/62G75/
2. http://www.biolog..._crisis/
dogbert
1 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2015
As the article pointed out, members of an advocacy group are, of course, strongly in favor of scientists engaging in public debate but when scientists in general were polled, most were not engaged in public debate.

Like most people, scientists work for someone and are constrained by that relationship in what they can do and say.
Doug_Huffman
1 / 5 (2) Feb 16, 2015
As a scientist with many years in many disciplines, ...
LOL impeached by his third word.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (5) Feb 16, 2015
The people who know the most about stuff should voice what they know about stuff (or even make the decisions about stuff).
I know, I know. That sounds much too sensible to be even considered in today's day and age. Rather some interent trolls should decide policy, right?

So it should certainly not be surprising to see that 80 percent of their members think that you need to be an advocate for science.

Well, I am much more surprised that there are 20 percent of the AAAS (!) think that they don't.

Well tell them to put their money where their mouth is and force the journals to publish all scientific articles to the general public and not hide them behind a paywall. That would be a good start.

You are aware that scientific journals are published by institutions that are not affiliated with any scientific community? They are profit oriented businesses (Springer, Elsevier, et.al). Good luck asking profit oriented businesses to hand out their stuff for free.
vse97513
3.7 / 5 (6) Feb 16, 2015
They are the ones who promoted the use to trans-fatty acids to replace coconut oil in cinema popcorn. Oops. They were wrong
Yep, this is a typical example of the manipulation of public on behalf of scientific lobby engaged in useless if not harmful research. It has been proven recently, that the trans-fatty acids bring no health benefit, but the lobby of scientists engaged in GMO manipulations pushes this myth anyway for not to lose their lucrative, but otherwise useless research and GMO related business. Should we give them well payed space in public media for it?
Steve 200mph Cruiz
5 / 5 (3) Feb 16, 2015
The problem with politics is that everyone has opinions driven by emotions, but I think George Carlin said that, "half the population manages to be dumber than the average person"

Social discussion on science is like watching the Maury show.
Even after the results are in, some people just don't give a crap about the baby at the end of the day. If someone isn't a man who can own up, nobody but the courts can get things done.
Protoplasmix
5 / 5 (4) Feb 16, 2015
And this:
A total of 79 percent of AAAS scientists said it was a "major problem for science" that news reports do not distinguish between scientific findings that are well-grounded and studies that are not.
^ shouldn't be surprising, because These 6 Corporations Control 90% of the Media in America

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