19 May 2020

New Report Shows Americans Continue to Value Science

This post is adapted from a National Science Board press release:

When it comes to Americans’ confidence in institutional leaders, scientists can feel good about their track record. The share of Americans who report having a “great deal of confidence” in leaders of the scientific community has been relatively stable over the last several decades and was 44% in 2018, second only to that for military leaders. Even before the current COVID-19 crisis, most Americans consistently supported federal funding of scientific research and believed that this research is beneficial. These and other data are available in a new report that the National Science Board (NSB) released last week.

Science and Technology: Public Attitudes, Knowledge, and Interest examines indicators of Americans’ attitudes and understanding, concern about, and knowledge of science and technology (S&T). The report identifies high-level trends and patterns for the US public overall as well as for selected demographics. It also compares US public attitudes, support for public funding of science, and knowledge about science and technology with other countries. The report is part of Science and Engineering Indicators 2020, the NSB’s congressionally mandated report on the state of the US science and engineering enterprise.

Americans' Level of Confidence in Institutional Leaders


“It’s interesting to see that in most cases, according to the indicators in this report, Americans continue to be positive about science and technology,” said Robert Groves, former member of the NSB’s Science and Engineering Policy Committee, which oversees development and production of Indicators in collaboration with National Science Foundation’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. “And it is heartening to see that many Americans see enough value in S&T that they would support increasing federal spending on scientific research.”

According to the report:

  • Most Americans hold a positive view of scientists: around 90% believe that scientists help solve problems, work for the good of humanity, and want to make life better for the average person.
  • In 2018, around 3 out of 4 Americans believed that the benefits of scientific research outweighed the harms.
  • In 2018, over 90% of Americans reported believing that science and technology will create more opportunities for the next generation. The share of respondents who believe this has been around 90% since 2006.
  • Public confidence in the leaders of the scientific community remains very high, second only to the military between 2012 and 2018. In 2018, Americans reported feeling “a great deal of confidence” (44%) or “some confidence” (47%) in leaders of the scientific community. The share of Americans who report having a “great deal of confidence” has been relatively stable with some minor fluctuations since 1973.
  • A strong majority of Americans have supported federally funded basic research (84% in 2018) for several decades. In 2018, 43% of Americans thought federal spending on scientific research was too low, and this share is as high as it has ever been.
  • Most Americans use the internet, rather than television or newspapers, to learn about science and technology. In 2018, 57% of Americans cited the Internet as their primary source of science and technology information.

Indicators is prepared under the guidance of the National Science Board by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, a federal statistical agency within the National Science Foundation. With the 2020 edition, Indicators is changing from a single report released every two years to a set of disaggregated and streamlined reports published on a rolling basis. Science and Technology: Public Attitudes, Knowledge, and Interest is the last of the series of 2020 Indicators reports.