WASHINGTON—Although public attitudes toward the chemical industry have grown more negative during the past six years, more than 80 percent of Americans support the work chemists do and feel they have made important contributions to medicine and society.

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...

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