Encountering Science in America

Top Three Takeaways

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The Public Face of Science

1. There is a diverse and expanding range of opportunities for people to encounter science, from visiting science centers and attending science events to participating in scientific research or engaging online. 

  • Most Americans regularly encounter science content through general news sources, social media, and entertainment. 
  • The rapid evolution of online platforms is providing new opportunities for science storytelling and extended dialogue. More research is needed to understand fully how online engagement can be effectively used to build a sense of shared understanding and trust.
  • Despite the growth of online platforms, attendance at science museums, zoos, aquariums, and other venues and institutions remains strong and these institutions are among the most trusted sources of scientific information.

2. More social science research is needed to understand the impacts of science communication and engagement, including on public interest in, understanding of, and support for science.

  • The diverse backgrounds, expertise, and attitudes of individual participants affect short-term outcomes in measurable ways. 
  • The long-term, cumulative impacts are challenging to assess because of the complex landscape of experiences and a limited understanding of how people move among activities.
  • A common language among scholars and practitioners, along with shared metrics and methodologies, is needed to address this knowledge gap and allow for comparative evaluations.

3.Understanding participant motivations is a critical component of effective science communication and engagement.

  • Individuals do not necessarily engage in science-centered activities with the sole intention of learning about science. For many people, the desire for social experiences and entertainment may be the primary reason for participating.
  • Despite the broad range of individual motivations and outcomes, activities can be designed for specific societal benefits, such as increasing community engagement, providing trusted information on controversial topics, or broadening participation in STEM.