Are scientists really out of touch?

A recent survey suggests the rift between scientists and the public is growing, but did its methodology sway the results?

Dietram A. Scheufele, Dominique Brossard, Sharon Dunwoody, Elizabeth A. Corley, David Guston, and Hans Peter Peters
Aug 3, 2009
In a recent linkurl:AAAS/Pew survey;http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/325/5937/132 [1], one in five U.S. scientists named the linkurl:chronic difficulties;http://www.infocusmagazine.org/6.3/president.html [2] in communicating with and educating lay audiences as one of the greatest U.S. scientific failures of the past 20 years. The real surprise, however, was that scientists do not seem too eager to find a solution -- at least not according to the linkurl:AAAS/Pew data;http://people-press.org/report/528/ [3]. Only about two in five AAAS scientists reported that they often talk to non-scientists about findings from their research, and only 3% often talk to reporters. But are things really that bad? As part of two independent research teams, we interviewed nationally representative samples of scientific experts in linkurl:nanotechnology;http://www.nature.com/nnano/journal/v4/n2/suppinfo/nnano.2008.361_S1.html [4, 5], linkurl:stem cell research and epidemiology;http://www.scienceonline.org/cgi/content/summary/321/5886/204 [6]. Data from these surveys suggest much more optimistic views among scientists about interactions with journalists, mass media, and lay audiences. At least two important differences in survey technique may explain these...

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