For Most Americans, Science Isn't News

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By Claire Atkinson

Most Americans aren’t very interested in science news and information, according to a new Pew Research Center study.

The study — released Wednesday but conducted before the hurricanes that hit Texas, Florida and the Caribbean — found that most Americans say they consume science news just a few times a month.

The results come as science topics such as climate change are at the center of national and international political debates.

The poll described 49 percent of respondents as “uninterested consumers,” who receive science news monthly or less frequently. Just 17 percent of Americans are described as “active science news consumers.”

When Americans do get science news, they find it confusing and contradictory, respondents told Pew, and 40 percent said that they find it hard to distinguish between low-quality and high-quality scientific reports.

Americans cited climate change as the topic where they see most disagreement among scientific experts, even though the vast majority of climate scientists have reached a consensus that human activity is warming the planet. Medicine and health news was the second-most-frequently cited topic where scientific authorities disagreed, and experts say it's no surprise that these disagreements leave lay readers perplexed.

“Some issues have become such political issues it’s a challenge for the science to come out," said Tiffany Lohwater, director of the office of public programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Washington.

Only 29 percent of survey respondents said that government agencies get science facts right “all or more than half the time.” A higher percentage of Americans said science museums, documentaries and science TV shows were more likely to get it right “all or more than half of the time.”

Just 29 percent think general non-specialist news media were getting science right most of the time.

The study was conducted May 30-June 12, 2017 among a representative sample of 4,024 adults, the Pew Research Center said.