Americans vs scientists: data shows disagreement on climate change and GM food

Pew Research shows partisan politics is impacting belief in climate change

Zachary Davies Boren
Sunday 01 February 2015 18:02 GMT
If the treaty negotiations in Paris later this year are a success, a fossil fuel generating station such as this one in Sun Valley, California will be a thing of the past
If the treaty negotiations in Paris later this year are a success, a fossil fuel generating station such as this one in Sun Valley, California will be a thing of the past (Getty Images)

Climate change and genetically modified (GM) food are the two things on which Americans and American scientists just do not agree, according to new data from Pew Research.

The study, entitled 'Public and Scientists' Views on Science and Society', compared the views of ordinary Americans to those of scientists connected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) on issues ranging from biomedical research to energy to space exploration.

There are some things on which both groups are equally divided — most are happy with space station investment, and a similar number don't want to see an increased use of fracking — but the results reveal a chasm between the people and the PhDs.

Here are 8 things on which they don't see eye-to-eye:

1. Man-made climate change

Only half of Americans believe climate change is mostly man-made, whereas a whopping 87 per cent of scientists say it is. Pew analysis confirms that this is a partisan issue, with 71 per cent of Democrats saying fossil fuels are causing climate change and the very same number of Republicans saying it's either down to nature or not happening at all.

2. Safe to eat GM foods

Even more AAAS scientists say it's safe to eat genetically modified foods than say climate change is caused by people (88 per cent). On the other hand, even fewer non-scientists say it's safe (37 per cent). The data says this is the topic on which there's the greatest discrepancy — a 51 point difference.

3. Animal research

89 per cent of scientists favour using animals in biomedical research, but fewer than half of Americans endorse this opinion (47 per cent).

4. Evolution

It's kind of hard to believe, but 2 per cent of the scientists surveyed disagreed that humans have evolved over time. Still, that means 98 per cent say Darwin was right. Americans otherwise largely believe in evolution (65 per cent) but that 33 point swing is significant.

5. Safe to eat pesticide foods

Like with GM, scientists and Americans just don't agree. Whilst 28 per cent on Americans would say no to food grown with pesticides, 68 per cent of scientists say it's a-okay.

6. Childhood vaccines

As with evolution, most people - scientist or otherwise - agree that kids should be given vaccines such as MMR. But also as with evolution, many more scientists are vaccine-advocates. 86 per cent of scientists and 68 per cent of other Americans support mandatory vaccinations.

A nuclear fuel rod at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Okuma, Fukushima, Japan (EPA)

7. Nuclear power

The American people remain unconvinced by nuclear power, with 55 per cent opposing more nuclear power plants. Most scientists, as you'd expect, say nuclear power is good thing, with 65 per cent favouring expanding the sector.

8. Offshore drilling

Finally something that the American people prefer. Going hand-in-hand with their differing opinions on climate change, most scientists don't want increased drilling for fossil fuels (68 per cent) whilst a marginal majority of the American people say it'd be a good thing.

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