Misunderstandings and willful denial about our changing climate have had real impacts on policy decisions, and the consequences of our inability or unwillingness to act are real. Just last week we got news that Easter Island is eroding due to rising sea levels. It can be tempting to oversimplify the problem and vilify the groups we feel are responsible, but as a new report on Perceptions of Science in America from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences reminds us, this stuff is complicated.
The report is the product of the American Academy’s Public Face of Science initiative. They did not collect the data themselves but pulled it together from various sources to help them, and us, understand “how trust in science is shaped by individual experiences, beliefs, and engagement with science.” The project description highlights the interdisciplinary teams necessary to tackle these challenges, including partnerships between scientists, communication professionals, and the arts.
Some of the results in the report are frustrating. The fact that 52% of respondents had “no response” to the question “what is the very first thing that comes to mind” when you hear ‘scientific research’” confounds me. I know it’s been years since many of these adults were in a science classroom, but how are they unaware of the research that infuses their everyday lives, from the medicine they take, to the electricity they consume, to the well-being of the residents at their local zoos? On the bright side, it is a reminder that most people do not have pre-established perceptions of science. I wonder how students would respond to this question.