A new survey by the Pew Research Center has found that, while the American public holds a high opinion of scientists, a minority feel that U.S. scientific achievements are best in the world. At the same time, scientists felt the biggest impediments to their research were lack of funding and difficulties in the H1-B visa process for foreign scientists and students.
The nation's scientists see H1-B visa issues as a major barrier to
scientific achievement, according to a new survey by the Pew
Some 56 percent surveyed felt that issues with the visa process for foreign
students and scientists represented a massive impediment, second only to the 87
percent who saw lack of funding as a "very serious" or "serious" problem.
Whether or not those issues are actually slowing down progress, U.S.
scientific achievements might have something of a PR problem. The survey found
that only 17 percent of the U.S.
public thought that U.S.
scientific achievements are best in the world; some 27 percent felt that the
country's advances in science, medicine and technology were its greatest
This somewhat pessimistic view was tempered by the public's largely positive
view of science and scientists, with 84 percent "mostly positive" on
science's effect on society, and 70 percent feeling that scientists contributed
"a lot" to society's well-being. For the latter category, the only
two professions that ranked higher were teachers and members of the military.
The Pew Research Center also collaborated with the American Association for
the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to conduct the same survey with 2,500
scientists, some 49 percent of whom rated U.S. scientific achievements as best
in the world. Scientists, despite the largely positive support for them and
their endeavors, had a somewhat more negative view of the public, with 85
percent of them citing the general populace's lack of scientific knowledge as a
problem for science, and 49 percent feeling that the "public expects
solutions to problems too quickly."
With regard to that lack of scientific knowledge, the survey found that the
public was more illuminated on topics that applied more personally to their
lives. For example, around 91 percent could say that aspirin is recommended to
prevent heart attacks, and 82 percent could say that GPS
technology is reliant on satellites. However, only 52 percent could say what
distinguished stem cells from other cells, and 46 percent knew that electrons
were smaller than atoms.
Scientists and the public seemed to have diverging opinions on several key
issues. Specifically, 87 percent of scientists believe in evolution and natural
selection, while 32 percent of the public thought of evolution as fact. Along
the same lines, 84 percent of scientists believe that global warming is a
reality caused by human activity, while 49 percent of the public thought
The dichotomy continues into the area of federal funding for embryonic stem
cell research, which 93 percent of scientists support versus 58 percent of the
public. The one area of relative agreement is universal vaccinations, where 82
percent of scientists and 69 percent of the public think that all children
should be vaccinated.
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.