The majority of Americans have had positive attitudes for several decades about the benefits of science and the scientific community. In 2018, most Americans saw more benefits than harms from science and agreed that S&T will offer more opportunities for the next generation. Americans also continue to strongly support federal funding of scientific research, and nearly half thought federal spending on scientific research was too low.
Despite favorable attitudes toward science and support for public funding, about half of the American public expressed concern in 2018, and over the last decade, that S&T may be making “life change too fast.” This is higher than in recent decades. In addition, public concern is relatively high compared with past years for several environmental and technological issues, including climate change, genetically engineered food, and nuclear energy. Surveys of attitudes in other countries, particularly advanced industrialized countries, generally report similar results—strong public support for science and concern about specific S&T issues.
Americans have had relatively moderate interest in S&T issues, including new scientific discoveries and new inventions and technologies, and relatively higher interest in several S&T issues, including medical discoveries and the environment. More than half of Americans rely primarily on the Internet as a source of science and general news. Reliance on the Internet has grown steadily over the last 20 years with sharp declines in reliance on television and traditional newspapers. Zoos and aquariums continue to be the most popular type of informal science institution.
Overall, the best predictor of positive views about S&T in the United States is education. Highly educated Americans—measured by overall education level, science and mathematics education, and/or familiarity with scientific ideas—are more likely to report more optimistic views about science and support for scientists. In addition, more highly educated people typically report the most concerns about environmental threats. Results of surveys in other countries are generally consistent with highly educated people expressing the most support and the most positive views of science.