A new survey in the U.S. has revealed that huge numbers of Americans reject the theory of evolution and don’t believe that human activity is in any way responsible for climate change. Although 79 percent of Americans say that scientists are invaluable, a significant number of people do not use science to inform their views on important topics such as climate change.
The report by the Pew Research Center in Washington D.C., sought to compare the opinions of the U.S. public with those held by scientists at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
While a reported 97 percent of the scientists agreed climate change is caused by humans, just 50 percent of U.S. adults believe that humans may be responsible for global warming. Indeed, most participants said there wasn’t enough good evidence for global warming, and that climate changes were due to natural climate variability.
Perhaps most controversial is the finding that 31 percent of Americans believe humans have existed in their present form since the beginning of time, with a further 24 percent believing humans have evolved with help from God. In contrast, only 2 percent of the scientists said humans had not evolved in their time on Earth. Only 35 percent of the surveyed public believed that evolution had progressed via natural processes as described by Charles Darwin.
Scientists and the public also disagreed strongly about the safety of GM foods. Fifty-seven percent of the public believed that GM foods were unsafe to eat, in contrast to the scientists, of whom 88 percent had no qualms about eating GM food.
“There is a disconnect between the way in which the public perceives the state of science and science’s position on a variety of issues. And that’s a cause of concern.”
Unlike the issues of climate change, GM, and evolution, in some areas of the survey, scientists and the public were in agreement. Both slammed the standards of U.S. science education and the secondary school system. Among the general public, 68 percent considered U.S. science education average or below average, and 84 percent of scientists agreed.
Alan Leshner, the chief executive of the AAAS, believes that a poor science education and other influencing factors, such as religious beliefs, are responsible for the contrasting opinions.
“Sometimes it’s simply a lack of understanding, sometimes it’s an economic or a political issue, and sometimes it’s a conflict between, say, core religious belief, or core values, and what science is showing. It’s not about whether the public is dumb or not. It’s partly a function of the American educational system that does a terrible job… at educating young people in science, math and technology.”
In response to the survey, Leshner is asking scientists to strike up “respectful dialogues” with community groups and religious institutions, saying “the opinion gap must not be allowed to swell into an unbridgeable chasm.”
But what’s your view? Is evolution really deniable in spite of the evidence? And are we, as human beings, completely blameless for climate change?