The coronavirus outbreak has underscored the prominent role that science news and information can play in public life, and there are signs that Americans are now paying more attention to science news.
More than half of American adults (56%) say they talk about science news with others at least a few times a month, including about a quarter (24%) who say they talk about science news at least a few times a week. The remaining 43% say they do so less often, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in December 2021.
Americans’ engagement with science news in daily discussions is higher than in a 2017 Center survey, when 44% said they discussed science news with others at least a few times a month.
The Pew Research Center conducted this study to understand Americans’ engagement with science news. The analysis is based on a Center survey of 14,497 American adults conducted from November 30 to December 30. 12, 2021.
All of those who participated in the survey are members of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel recruited by random national sampling of residential addresses. In this way, almost all American adults have a chance of being selected. The survey is weighted to be representative of the US adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, party affiliation, education and other categories. Learn more about the ATP methodology.
Here are the questions used for this analysis, as well as the answers, and its methodology.
The survey on which this post is based is made possible by The Pew Charitable Trusts, which has received support from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
Online, about half of adult social media users in the United States (48%) say they have seen science-based content on social platforms in the past few weeks, while 33% take it a step further and say they proactively follow a science-focused page or account. new. The share of social media users who say they follow an account focused on science content is also higher than in 2017, when 26% said they did.
Science can conjure up a range of topics for people, including health and medicine, artificial intelligence, and space exploration. In the 2021 survey, there is some variation in how often Americans speak and follow accounts on specific science-related topics, including health and medicine, the coronavirus outbreak, the energy and the environment. (Read the first line for details.)
Overall, three-quarters of Americans express some interest in following science news, according to the 2021 survey. About a quarter (27%) say they are very interested in current scientific news, while 48% say they are somewhat interested. Public interest in science news exceeds interest in topics such as business and finance, as well as sports and entertainment, although it is lower than public interest in news about their community local. As expected, those who are very interested in science news are particularly likely to say they talk about it frequently and, among social media users, to follow science-related accounts on social media. .
Interest in following science news is up slightly from 2017, with the share of adults who are at least somewhat interested being 4 percentage points higher than it was then.
Education is one of the main drivers of interest and engagement in science news and information.
About four in ten postgraduates (41%) and 35% of university graduates say they are very interested in following scientific news, compared to 26% of those with some university experience and 19% of those with a university degree. high school or less. .
Interest in science news also tends to be higher among men than among women, as well as among those with higher than lower household income.
Democrats and independents leaning towards the Democratic Party (33%) are more likely than Republicans and Republicans leaning towards the Democratic Party (20%) to say they are very interested in following science news. The share of Democrats who are very interested in following science news is 5 points higher than in 2017. Among Republicans, there was a slight increase in the share who are at least somewhat interested in following the news scientist, but little change in the part that say they are very interested.
At a time when debates on science-related issues are often polarized along partisan lines, a large portion of Americans are expressing frustration with the degree of partisanship that surrounds science news.
About three-quarters (76%) of Americans say when they follow science news that they feel frustrated by the many political disagreements in this area. In particular, this feeling of frustration is shared by identical shares of Republicans and Democrats (78% each). A separate Center investigation this year found that partisan disagreement is also among the top factors Americans believe have contributed to the problems the country is facing in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.
Reactions to science news also include positive sentiments. The majority of Americans say they have been amazed by scientific developments (58%), while the same proportion say they are reassured that knowledge is continually updated when they follow scientific news and information.
Still, 57% of Americans express some level of confusion when it comes to science news, saying they find it hard to know what to think because of so much conflicting information. And half of Americans think they should follow new scientific developments more than they do now; about as many (48%) say they don’t feel this.
College graduates and Democrats are more likely to report positive reactions to science news. Three quarters of those with a university degree or more say they have felt amazed by new developments, and 73% say they have found it reassuring to see that scientific knowledge is constantly being updated. In contrast, about half of those with a college education or less report either of these reactions. Democrats, meanwhile, are 20 percentage points more likely than Republicans to report feeling amazed by scientific developments (68% vs. 48%) and 24 points more likely to feel reassured that scientific knowledge is always up to date. day (70% versus 46%) .
Among those with higher and lower levels of education, similar shares say it can be hard to know what to think because there is so much conflicting information in science news. But Republicans are much more likely than Democrats (70% vs. 47%) to say they’ve had this reaction while following science news.
When it comes to making sense of information about science, a majority of Americans (74%) say they can trust a lot (36%) or a little (38%) information from scientific experts in this field. . Friends and family are also high on the public’s list of people to go to for scientific information: 55% say they can rely heavily or partially on scientific information from close friends and family. Fewer Americans (44%) say they can rely a lot or a little on scientific information provided by journalists.
Among Internet users, about a third (35%) say they can rely on scientific information from online groups of people with common interests of which they are a part. Other potential sources rank lower on the public’s list of people they can rely on for scientific information.
Partisan affiliation is linked to opinions about the reliability of journalists and experts in scientific information.
Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to say they can trust at least some of the scientific information provided by journalists (63% vs. 23%). While the majority of both partisan groups say they can rely on experts for information on science, a slightly larger share of Democrats than Republicans say so (82% versus 66%).
These differences are consistent with the gaps between Republicans and Democrats in overall levels of trust in journalists and scientists. In contrast, when it comes to relying on other sources of scientific information, such as close friends and family, Republicans and Democrats express broadly similar views.
Note: The following are the questions used for this analysis, together with the answers, and its methodology.
Emily Saks is a research assistant specializing in scientific and social research at the Pew Research Center.
Alec Tyson is associate director of research at the Pew Research Center.