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What People Think and Know About Science

By now most readers will have heard about the 9 July Pew Research Center report on the attitudes of Americans on science and scientists. At one level the news is good: Americans hold scientists in high esteem and believe science contributes to our economic well-being.

At another level, though, the Pew report reveals the seeds of future problems: scientists think other folks don’t know enough about science, and all Americans become wary of one another on tender issues like evolution and climate change.

The latter point on ideological division mirrors the way contemporary society deals with all manner of challenges: draw a line in the sand, and line up people on one side or the other. The antidote is to resist the idea that everything can be reduced to simple categorization lacking in nuance, subtlety, and intricacies of understanding.

On the matter of general scientific understanding, you might like to try out the Science Knowledge Quiz administered by Pew as part of the study. My hunch is that anyone who reads Periodic Tabloid would likely achieve 100% correct answers, but take a look for yourself. The survey showed a broad scoring range among the citizenry at large, but please let me know if I’m overestimating how much scientifically educated people actually know.

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Periodic Tabloid is an ongoing record of the activities of the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s staff and scholars, whose work tells the story of chemistry over the centuries up to modern times. Stay tuned for behind-the-scenes coverage of our events, exclusive supplemental materials to our publications, analysis of pressing contemporary scientific issues, and much more.