Recently, the National Science Board (NSB) published its biennial Science and Engineering Indicators report for 2012. This report comprises quantitative data on the U.S. and international science and engineering by objectively reviewing science and engineering progress in both the US and internationally. The report does not make policy options and recommendations, but it is used by different governmental and non-governmental entities to formulate their own policies and recommendations. This report is required by law.
For some background, the NSB is a Presidentially appointed (and US Senate confirmed) board, with staggered terms, whose responsibility is to advise the President and Congress on science and technology issues. They are also responsible for setting policies and strategies for the National Science Foundation (NSF) which funds basic science and engineering research but not medical research, which is the responsibility of the National Institutes of Health.
The report is rather long, with lots of data about public attitudes towards science and engineering, which, for a skeptic, is the most interesting. For those of you who don’t have the time to read the whole report, below are some interesting results that can be used in discussions, especially with those anti-science types who tend to make up information to “win” their fallacious arguments.
- Climate change. 84% of scientists (members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a reasonable cross-section of scientists) agree that the earth is getting warmer due to human activity, whereas only 49% of the US public does. Though science is not a voting democracy (it progresses with debate and consensus via peer-reviewed publications), it is clear that a vast majority of scientists (in politics, it would be a landslide) support the theory of anthropogenic global warming.
- Climate change again. The American public underestimates the level of consensus among scientists about human caused climate change. For example, 56% of the public said that scientists generally agree to anthropogenic global warming, while 35% said scientists do not generally agree about the cause. These results are in conflict with the above survey of scientists that found that 84% of scientists agree with the theory.
- Evolution. 97% of scientists (same AAAS group) agree that humans and other living things evolved over time, whereas 61% of the US public also agree with the same. One of the memes of the creationist world is that there is an ongoing scientific controversy about evolution. A 97-3 score is not a controversy, it’s just short of unanimous. I’m very surprised by the rather large number of Americans who support evolution, but it’s a good solid number.
- Embryonic stem cell research. Once again, 93% of scientists favor federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, while 58% of the public favors the same.
- Evolution again. The NSF sponsored a poll in 2010 that found that 47% of Americans agreed that human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals. (Of course, I would be arguing with the pollster that the question is improperly worded.) Interestingly, if the question is framed with evolution, as in “according to the theory of evolution, human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals, over 70% agreed. I guess Americans are fairly well educated as to what evolution is, just not buying it.
There’s a lot more data, but some of you can use these points whenever you hear the comment “there’s a huge scientific controversy about XYZ.” No there isn’t. At least in evolution and climate change.