Friday, January 30, 2015

Americans misinformed on scientific issues thanks to the mainstream media

A new study by the Pew Research Center and American Association for the Advancement of Science, compared opinions about scientific matters of the public and AAAS’ member scientists. Published in the journal Science, the study found that Americans are dangerously misinformed about evolution, GMO foods and climate change. I won’t go into the specifics of the survey findings, but if you are interested you can find them here.

A Salon article that looks at the survey ends with a quote from the CEO of AAAS and publisher of Science, who says: “There is a disconnect between the way the public perceives science and the way that scientists see science. Scientists need to do something to turn this around.”

I disagree with this conclusion. I don’t think it’s accurate or fair to blame scientists for the American public’s lack of scientific literacy. The mainstream media is the true culprit here.

Like it or not, evolution, GMO foods and climate change have been politicized by conservatives (through their megaphone FOX News) and successfully characterized as “liberal” or “secular” positions instead of scientific findings. Because of this, mainstream news outlets have been very timid about reporting accurately on these subjects, often serving up so-called experts on both sides to further confuse people. Living in fear of angering and loosing viewers or funding, ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS tread very lightly around the truth related to these important issues, leaving a void that FOX News is only too happy to fill.

Scientists need to be concerned with science, not public relations. And news outlets need to be concerned with informing listeners and having the courage to present scientific facts regardless of the political implications.

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