Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The gap between scientists and the public

As I mentioned before, it has become a great issue for scientists to explain what they research about to citizens. Nowadays, little money is available to invest in research whose value is uncertain in many countries.

My past entry: Crowd Funding in research

My past entry: What is expert?

Recently, an interesting result was published regarding the difference between citizens and scientists in the recognition of modern scientific research.

Five Thirty Eight: THE SURVEY SAYS There’s A Gap Between What The Public Thinks And What Scientists Know

In this study, several regions of the scientific issues were subjected to the questionnaire. As a result, considerable differences were detected in some aspects. For example, 88% of the scientists considered that genetically modified foods were safe, but only 37% of the public believed it. As well, 68% of the scientists regarded pesticides as safe, whereas 28% of the citizens thought so. The full report is readable on the website.

Interestingly, regarding the idea of the cause of climate change, 87% of the scientists and 50% of the public answered that human activity was responsible for it. Actually, I do not completely agree the idea modern climate change has occurred due to human activity. I have little knowledge about this issue, so maybe I am closer to public than ecologists. But, to my best knowledge, some of the recent hypotheses are not acceptable. There are many unproven secrets, I feel.

The necessity of astronauts for future of US space program was one of the items in which the difference in the opinion between public and scientists was small. I was rather surprised that only 59% of the scientists agreed with this idea. For middle aged persons, the achievement of landing the moon by the Apollo can be a symbolic event representing strong America. On the other hand, not a few people believe the urban legend that the government fabricated it. As even a scientists can be deceived easily, it may be a reason for the equality between citizens and scientists. Or rather, scientists tend to emphasize the importance of the research they are engaged, leading to underestimation of the importance of the space program.

The researchers well recognize the weaknesses of this study. As I referred above, any scientists are not a specialist in all region of the issues. Some questions have been almost proven by rich evidence, but others are hardly judged by scientific point of view. Ethics and human emotion are also concerned about the assessment.

On the other hand, I think that we can fill the gap of some of the issues relatively easily. Lack of knowledge sometimes makes serious bias and prejudice. It is also an oblige for scientists to enlighten the public to make them understand precisely about controversial matters.

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