These groups study public perceptions and how they interact with science communication efforts. Their websites host a range of related resources.
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NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION: National Science Board
WHAT IT IS: The National Science Board is a core part of National Science Foundation (NSF) that identifies critical issues relevant to NSF's mission and aims to provide unbiased reports, such as the Science and Engineering Indicators. These indicators provide a comprehensive overview of the current STEM landscape in the US.
- STEM education (K-12)
- STEM labor force
- Research + Development
- Global Marketplace
- Public attitudes towards science
- Public understanding of science
- State-level indicators
WHAT IT IS: The Frameworks Institute is a Non-profit that investigates public perception of scientific topics, and tests out the effects of various metaphors (frameworks) to communicate scientific ideas. They make all of their reports and recommendations available publicly, for use in various not for profit science communication endeavors.
- International Issues
- Place-based Projects
(subtopics not listed)
- Domestic Issues
CULTURAL COGNITION PROJECT AT YALE LAW SCHOOL
WHAT IT IS: The Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School studies how group commitments shape perceptions of risk & related facts, and publishes their papers and presentations online.
- Risk Perception and Regulation
- Public Policy and Politics
- Gun Risks and Regulation
PEW RESEARCH CENTER
WHAT IT IS: Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. They conduct public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other data-driven social science research.
Below are select peer-reviewed articles related to public attitudes towards and understanding of science.
Note: To abide by copyright laws, we cannot post downloadable .pdfs of articles at this time. If you are interested in a particular article and do not have access through the journal, we recommend contacting the corresponding author directly.
Know of an article you'd like to see added to this list? Email us here.
Is it believable when it's scientific? How scientific discourse style influences laypeople's resolution of conflicts
Scientific texts are a genre in which adherence to specific discourse conventions allows for conclusions on the scientific integrity of the information and thus on its validity. This study examines whether genre-typical features of scientific discourse influence how laypeople handle conflicting science-based knowledge claims. In two experiments with a total of N = 120 participants we investigated to what extent laypeople take into account such features when judging the “scientificness” and credibility of conflicting knowledge claims about medical issues and issues related to climate change and when determining their personal agreement with conflicting claims. Results showed that laypeople use genre-typical discourse features to evaluate the scientificness and credibility of conflicting science-based information. However, depending on the scientific topic, they appear to distinguish between what they judge to be credible and what they personally believe to be true. Educational implications of the findings are discussed.
The Public's Bounded Understanding of Science
This introduction to the special issue Understanding the Public Understanding of Science: Psychological Approaches discusses some of the challenges people face in understanding science. We focus on people's inevitably bounded understanding of science topics; research must address how people make decisions in science domains such as health and medicine without having the deep and extensive understanding that is characteristic of domain experts. The articles reflect two broad streams of research on the public understanding of science—the learning orientation that seeks to improve understanding through better instruction and the communications orientation that focuses on attitudes about science and trust in scientists. Challenges to understanding science include determining the relevance of information, the tentativeness of scientific truth, distinguishing between scientific and nonscientific issues, and determining what is true and what is false. Studying the public understanding of science can potentially contribute to psychological theories of thinking and reasoning in modern societies.
Does the Sun revolve around the Earth? A comparison between the general public and online survey respondents in basic scientific knowledge.
We conducted an online survey using a set of factual science questions that are commonly administered to assess fact-based scientific literacy. We report that the online population performed substantially better on this standard assessment than the traditional survey population. For example, it has been widely reported that 1 in 4 Americans does not know that the Earth revolves around the Sun, whereas among the online population, this ratio is reduced to 1 in 25. While new online platforms provide researchers with unprecedented ease of access to a large sample population for studying trends in public knowledge and attitudes, generalizing from online population samples to the US population at large poses a considerable challenge. We discuss the potential reasons for this discrepancy and the implications for conducting research online.
Addressing Challenges to Public Understanding of Science: Epistemic Cognition, Motivated Reasoning, and Conceptual Change
Science is of critical importance to daily life in a knowledge society and has a significant influence on many everyday decisions. As scientific problems increase in their number and complexity, so do the challenges facing the public in understanding these issues. Our objective is to focus on 3 of those challenges: the challenge of reasoning about knowledge and the processes of knowing, the challenge of overcoming biases in that reasoning, and the challenge of overcoming misconceptions. We propose that research in epistemic cognition, motivated reasoning, and conceptual change can help to identify, understand, and address these obstacles for public understanding of science. We explain the contributions of each of these areas in providing insights into the public's understandings and misunderstandings about knowledge, the nature of science, and the content of science. We close with educational recommendations for promoting scientific literacy.
Why should we promote public engagement with science?
This introductory essay looks back on the two decades since the journal Public Understanding of Science was launched. Drawing on the invited commentaries in this special issue, we can see narratives of continuity and change around the practice and politics of public engagement with science. Public engagement would seem to be a necessary but insufficient part of opening up science and its governance. Those of us who have been involved in advocating, conducting and evaluating public engagement practice could be accused of over-promising. If we, as social scientists, are going to continue a normative commitment to the idea of public engagement, we should therefore develop new lines of argument and analysis. Our support for the idea of public engagement needs qualifying, as part of a broader, more ambitious interest in the idea of publicly engaged science.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place: The Deficit Model, the Diffusion Model and Publics in STS
The start of the twenty-first century witnessed the flourishing of both the biosciences (particularly genomics) and initiatives around public engagement in science, particularly in the UK and USA. STS researchers have both followed and fuelled this latter trend. Hence, it may be helpful to review the genealogy of these recent developments and of STS concern for the publics of science. This provides a way of assessing whether STS activities have been contributing to making the sciences more open and accountable to their publics. One trail returns to the institutionalisation of Public Understanding of Science (PUS) in the mid-1980s. The critique of this movement by STS scholars through reference to the deficit model (of public understanding of science) also figures here. However, less attention has been given to other modes of conceptualising science and publics, including what Cooter and Pumfrey label as the ‘diffusionist’ or ‘diffusion’ model (of scientific knowledge), which they contend entrenched traditional views of scientific knowledge and of publics as receivers of such knowledge. More recently, investigations of the making of science in diverse locations, attention to multiplicity and co-production have taken STS in new directions. Nevertheless, the legacies of both the deficit and diffusion models of science and publics continue to influence STS and its ‘regimes of truth’. Questions remain around STS researchers' persistent failure to acknowledge the diffusion model, in particular, and the consequent retrenchment of traditional views of how science works, limiting prospects for substantial public engagement and more open, democratic modes of science.
An integrated model of communication influence on beliefs
How do people develop and maintain their beliefs about science? Decades of social science research exist to help us answer this question. The Integrated Model of Communication Influence on Beliefs presented here combines multiple theories that have considered aspects of this process into a comprehensive model to explain how individuals arrive at their scientific beliefs. In this article, we (i) summarize what is known about how science is presented in various news and entertainment media forms; (ii) describe how individuals differ in their choices to be exposed to various forms and sources of communication; (iii) discuss the implications of how individuals mentally process information on the effects of communication; (iv) consider how communication effects can be altered depending on background characteristics and motivations of individuals; and (v) emphasize that the process of belief formation is not unidirectional but rather, feeds back on itself over time. We conclude by applying the Integrated Model of Communication Influence on Beliefs to the complex issue of beliefs about climate change.
Factors Contributing to Adult Knowledge of Science and Technology
Historically, most efforts to improve public knowledge of science and technology have focused on improvements in K-12 schooling, although post-secondary education and informal education have also been mentioned as important factors. Currently, little empirical data exist to determine how or when to best leverage science and technology education energies and resources. This article examines a range of factors potentially contributing to adult knowledge of science and technology. Results from a telephone survey of 1,018 adult residents in greater Los Angeles, California (United States) showed that adult free-choice learning experiences such as reading books and magazines about science and technology, using the internet, and watching science related documentaries and videos were the strongest predictors of self-reported knowledge of science and technology. Privilege, especially higher income and being male, was also an important factor, as were workplace experiences and childhood experiences outside of school. Although formal schooling was a significant predictor of this knowledge, it explained less variance in knowledge than most other factors. This research provides initial data on which to base discussions about how best to support public education in science and technology.