A survey of 1,448 adults, done last year for the American Chemical Society, found that 51 percent rated chemical companies unfavorably, compared with 41 percent in 1980. Frank Bigger, a spokesman for the ACS, said the change is due in part to heavy media coverage of chemical accidents. Bigger said the divergent ratings given chemists and the companies they work for is due to a halo effect, in which the public views all scientists, not just chemists, with reverence and respect.
The survey also found that supporters of chemistry do not necessarily have even a rudimentary understanding of the science. Asked to describe the "one thing you think of" when describing the fundamental building blocks that underlie chemistry, 78 percent answered incorrectly or hazarded no guess at all, even though such general responses as "the periodic table" were scored as correct. The poll found no correlation between a knowledge of the field and a high regard for chemistry.