Public Release: 

Vast majority of scientists believe in engagement on public policy debates

51 percent of scientists talk to journalists and 47 percent use social media

American Association for the Advancement of Science

February 15, 2015-Scientists say they are facing a challenging time and 87% believe that scientists should take an active role in public policy debates. In addition, a sizable share believes that engaging with the public and news media can advance the careers of scientists, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The survey of 3,748 American-based AAAS scientists finds that 71% of those surveyed believe the public has either some or a lot of interest in their specialty area and 53% say there is a lot or some debate in the news about their field.

Scientists in this sample are engaged in a variety of ways with the public and media - through interviews, social media, and blogging. Many scientists report that media coverage of their research and social media use is part of their work and they think that some news coverage poses problems for science. A sizable share of scientists also believes that gaining coverage and participating in social media can further their careers. The key data:

  • 43% of AAAS scientists say it is "important" or "very important" for scientists in their specialty to get coverage of their work in news media, up from 37% who said that in a 2009 survey.
  • 22% describes it as either "very important" (4%) or "important" (18%) for career advancement in their discipline to promote their findings on social media such as Facebook or Twitter.
  • At the same time, 79% of AAAS scientists believe it is a major problem for science that news reports do not distinguish between well-founded and not well-founded scientific findings. Further, 52% say that simplification of scientific findings is a major problem for science in general.

"Science topics are increasingly becoming part of the public debate and scientists clearly feel they should be in the arena," said Lee Rainie, Pew Research Center director of internet, science and technology research. "These views link to a broad feeling in the science community that things are not as good as they used to be, that the research funding environment is more precarious, and policy decisions in key areas like land use and environmental quality are not often based on the best science."

These are some of the findings from the second of several reports analyzing data from a pair of surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center in collaboration with the AAAS. A survey of the general public was conducted using a probability-based sample of the adult population by landline and cellular telephone Aug. 15-25, 2014, with a representative sample of 2,002 adults nationwide. The survey of scientists was conducted online with a random sample of 3,748 U.S.-based members of the AAAS from September 11 to October 13, 2014. AAAS is the world's largest general scientific society, and includes members from all scientific fields.

Other key findings:

  • Scientists regularly engage with the public and the media. Fully 98% of AAAS scientists say they have some level of interaction with citizens and 51% have at least some contact with reporters about research findings. Mid-career and older scientists are more likely than others to speak to reporters.
  • Nearly half of AAAS scientists (47%) use social media to talk about science or read about scientific developments. Some 24% say they blog about science and research. Blogging is something that equally spans the generations under age 65, but younger scientists are more likely to use social media. Fully 70% of the scientists under age 35 use social media, compared with 44% of those ages 50-64 and 30% of those 65 and older.
  • Scientists who are more engaged often use multiple methods and platforms to connect with the public. Some 41% of AAAS scientists report that they "often" or "occasionally" do at least two of these four activities: 1) talk with non-experts about science topics, 2) talk with the media, 3) use social media or 4) blog. Nearly half (48%) do one of these four activities either often or occasionally and 11% do none of these on an "often" or "occasional" basis.
  • Traditional information and peer networking activities are the most common ways scientists stay up-to-date. 84% of AAAS scientists read journal articles outside of their primary fields or scientific disciplines and 79% say they attend professional meetings, workshops and lectures.
  • Digital communications are also a common part of the learning activities of scientists as they connect with peers: 58% get email alerts from journals in their specialty; 56% get emails from general science journals; 32% belong to email list-servs; 19% follow blogs by experts their fields; and 12% follow tweets or other postings in social media by experts in their field.

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These findings are for immediate release and available at: http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/02/15/how-scientists-engage-public/.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Dana Page at 202.419.4372 or dpage@pewresearch.org.

Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It does not take policy positions.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society and publisher of the Science family of journals. The non-profit AAAS, founded in 1848, is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, public engagement, and more.

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