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Americans are knowledgeable about basic scientific facts that affect their health and daily lives, but they are less able to answer questions about more complex science topics, according to a PEW study released in early July. These results support Gravitas’ long-standing philosophy that we learn and retain science information better when it is put into context and associated with our real-world experience.

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society, conducted a general survey of opinions about the state of science and its impact on society. They also asked science knowledge questions in a separate survey of 1,005 adult members of the general public. Quoting from that section of the published report:

Fully 91% know that aspirin is an over-the-counter drug recommended to prevent heart attacks and 82% know that GPS technology relies on satellites. And topics covered in major news stories also are widely understood; 77% correctly identify earthquakes as a cause of tsunamis and 65% can identify CO2 as a gas linked to rising temperatures.

Slightly more than half (54%) knows that antibiotics do not kill viruses along with bacteria, and about the same percentage (52%) knows that what distinguishes stem cells from other cells is that they can develop into many different kinds of cells. And some high-school science knowledge is elusive for most Americans: Fewer than half (46%) know that electrons are smaller than atoms.

There were several other interesting results in the survey of opinions about the state of science and its impact on society, as the report presented points of agreement and disagreement between scientists who were surveyed and the general public.

For example, majorities of both groups point to advances in medicine and life sciences as important achievements of science. About half of the public (52%) cites medicine – including health care, vaccines, and medical cures – when asked to describe ways that science has positively affected society; by comparison, just 7% mention communications and computer technology. Similarly, most scientists (55%) mention a biomedical or health finding when asked about the nation’s greatest scientific achievement of the last 20 years.

The published report (Public Praises Science) also reveals percentages of opinions of the public versus scientists on topics such as natural evolution, belief in climate change from human activity, the relative standing of U.S. science achievements, and more.

Read or download the report at: http://people-press.org/report/528/

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