Americans report more interaction with science news than in 2017
The outbreak of the Corona virus has emphasized the prominent role that scientific news and information can play in public life, and there are signs that Americans are now paying more attention to scientific news.
More than half (56%) of adults in the United States say they talk about science news with others at least several times per month, including about a quarter (24%) who say they talk about science news at least several times a week. The remaining 43% say they do so often, according to a December 2021 Pew Research Center survey.
Americans’ interaction with science news in daily discussions is higher than it was in a 2017 poll conducted by the center, when 44% said they talked about science news with others at least several times a month.
Pew Research Center conducted this study to understand Americans’ participation in science news. The analysis is based on a survey conducted by the center of 14,497 US adults from November 30 to December 30. 12, 2021.
Everyone who took part in the survey is a member of the Center’s American Attitudes Panel (ATP), an online survey panel recruited by national random sampling of residential addresses. In this way, almost all adults in the United States have the opportunity to choose. The survey was weighted to be representative of the adult population of the United States by gender, race, ethnicity, party affiliation, education, and other categories. Read more about the ATP methodology.
Below are the questions used in this analysis, along with the responses, and its methodology.
The survey on which this publication is based was made possible by The Pew Charitable Trusts, which received support from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
Online, about half of US adult social media users (48%) say they have viewed science content on social platforms in the past few weeks, while 33% have gone further and say they proactively follow a page or account focused on news science. The proportion 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 bring to mind a range of topics for people, including health, medicine, artificial intelligence, and space exploration. In the 2021 survey, there is some variation in how often Americans talk and follow accounts on specific science-related topics, including health, medicine, the coronavirus outbreak, energy and the environment. (Read the top line for more details.)
Overall, three-quarters of Americans express some level of interest in following news related to science, according to a 2021 survey. About a quarter (27%) say they are very Interested in science news, while another 48% said they were somewhat interested. Public interest in science news outweighs interest in topics such as business and finance, as well as sports and entertainment, although it is less than general interest in news related to one’s local community. As expected, those who are very interested in science news are especially likely to say they talk about science news frequently, and among social media users to follow science-related accounts on social media.
Interest in following science news has risen modestly since 2017, with the proportion of adults interested somewhat higher by 4 percentage points than it was at the time.
Education is one of the biggest factors behind interest in and participation in scientific news and information.
About four in ten graduate students (41%) and 35% of college graduates say they are very interested in pursuing science news, compared to 26% of those with some college experience and 19% of those with a high school diploma or less education.
Interest in scientific news also tends to be higher among men than among women, as well as among those with higher than lower family incomes.
Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (33%) are more likely than Republicans and smaller Republicans (20%) to say they are very interested in following scientific news. The proportion of Democrats very interested in following science news is five points higher than it was in 2017. Among Republicans, there has been a modest increase in participation at least somewhat interested in following science news but a small change in the proportion who say they are very interested.
While discussions about science-related issues are often polarized along partisan lines, a large portion of Americans express frustration about the amount of partisanship surrounding science news.
About three-quarters (76%) of Americans, when following scientific news, say they are frustrated that there are so many political controversies in this area. Notably, this frustration is shared by identical shares of Republicans and Democrats (78% each). A separate Center poll this year found that partisan discord is also among the top factors Americans believe have contributed to the problems the country has faced dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.
Reactions to scientific news also include positive emotions. The majority of Americans say they have been amazed by scientific developments (58%), while the same share says they feel reassured that knowledge is constantly updated when they follow scientific news and information.
However, 57% of Americans express some level of confusion when it comes to scientific news, and say they feel it is difficult to know what to think due to so many conflicting information. Half of Americans feel they must keep up with new scientific developments more than they do now; Nearly (48%) said they don’t feel this way.
College alumni and Democrats are more likely to give positive reactions to science news. Three-quarters of those with a university degree or more in education say they have been surprised by new developments, and 73% say they find it reassuring to see scientific knowledge always updated. By contrast, about half of those with a college education or less reported any of these reactions. Meanwhile, Democrats are 20 percentage points more likely than Republicans to report being amazed at scientific developments (68% vs. 48%) and 24 points more likely to be reassured that scientific knowledge is always up-to-date (70% vs. 46%).
Among those with higher and lower levels of education, similar posts say it can be hard to know what to think because there is so much conflicting information in the science news. But Republicans are more likely than Democrats (70% vs. 47%) to say they received this reaction when following scientific news.
When it comes to understanding information about science, the majority of Americans (74%) say they can rely a lot (36%) or some (38%) on information from scientific experts in the field. Friends and family also rank high on the audience list of people to turn to for scientific information: 55% say they can rely a lot or on some scientific information from close friends and family. Fewer Americans (44%) say they can rely as much or on some science-related information from journalists.
Among Internet users, about a third (35%) said 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 in the audience’s list of people they can rely on for scientific information.
Party affiliation is linked to the credibility of journalists and experts in scientific information.
Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say they can rely on at least some scientific information from journalists (63% vs. 23%). While a majority from both party groups say they can rely on experts for information about science, somewhat more Democrats than Republicans say so (82% vs. 66%).
These differences correspond to gaps between Republicans and Democrats in general levels of trust in journalists and scientists. By 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: Below are the questions used in this analysis, along with the responses, and its methodology.
Emily Sachs He is a research associate focused on science and society research at the Pew Research Center.
Alec Tyson He is associate director of research at the Pew Research Center.
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