Monday, March 16, 2015

Science vs the World

According to surveys, there's a gap between what the public thinks and what scientists know.
The surveys found broad support for government to spend money on science, but that doesn’t mean the public supports the conclusions that scientists draw.

The biggest gap between scientists and the public came on issues that may elicit fear: the safety of genetically modified (or GMO) foods (37 percent of the public said GMOs were safe, compared to 88 percent of scientists) and the use of pesticides in agriculture (28 percent of the public said foods grown with pesticides were safe to eat, versus 68 percent of scientists). There was also disagreement over the cause of climate change (50 percent of the public said it is mostly due to human activity, compared to 87 percent of scientists).
I found myself in disagreement with scientists on only one issue.

The issue on which I disagree with scientists appears in two questions: "Astronauts essential for future of U.S. space program" and "Space station has been a good investment for U.S." The wording makes this less a matter of scientific fact and more a matter of personal opinion. So, I don't feel bad about disagreeing with scientists. It seems to me that the space missions that have advanced our knowledge the most have been the unmanned missions to the planets and satellites used for communications, imagery, weather and climate, navigation, etc. The manned missions, on the other hand, have always struck me more as stunts than science. Expensive public relations stunts at that. The time, effort and cost that is needed to ensure the safety of humans in space dwarfs that needed for unmanned missions. Even though I disagree with the majority of scientists on this issue, it's not a large majority. Only 59% of scientists agree that astronauts are essential for the future of the U.S. space program.

On all the other issues, I'm with the scientists, but the wording of some questions leaves a lot of room for disagreement. For example, what does "favor increased use of fracking" mean? An increase from what baseline? None? An increase where? In, say, unpopulated areas in North Dakota? Or an increase in populated cities like Dallas? In fact, I can think of enough places where I think increased use of fracking might be appropriate that I'll say I disagree with the majority of scientists, 61% of whom do not favor increased use of fracking. There's another question like this, "favor more offshore drilling," but because scientists are almost evenly split on this issue themselves (52% favor it), it's impossible to say if I'm with scientists or against them on this issue. Either way I answer, it's both.

Take the survey yourself. See where you stand on the thirteen issues. Do you stand with scientists or against them?

And to show you that I actually think about these issues, and am open to changing my mind when the facts and circumstances change, check out this old post: "Things I Was Against Before I Was For".

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