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Why Elaborate on Scientists’ Views?

AAAS Members Surveyed

This report revisits the subject matter of a January release in which Pew Research Center compared the public’s and scientists’ viewpoints on key scientific issues. Specifically, this report takes a closer look at how opinions vary among different groups of scientists.

There are several reasons to explore scientists’ views further. The first is to get closer to “the experts.” If specialized or more narrowly-defined communities of scientists have different views from the broader community of AAAS members, it could be an important insight into the current state of expert opinion.

A second, closely related, reason is to better understand the extent to which the perspectives of field experts are accepted by the broader scientific community. This could point to areas of broad scientific consensus, such as evolution, and areas where there is more division, such as space exploration and energy. As new scientific discoveries and thinking emerges, tracking the views of both domain-area specialists and broader scientific communities could illuminate the processes underlying the dissemination and acceptance of new scientific findings.

A third reason is to better document the boundaries of the scientific community. Understanding who counts as a scientist has long been a subject where seasoned analysts, along with the overall public, hold differences of opinion.4 Thus, it may be helpful to examine the views of subsets of AAAS members in order to empirically assess the degree to which narrowing the definition of scientist either strengthens or weakens the degree of consensus – and sense of coherent community – among those engaged with science.

  1. There is a long history of exploration into how the general public perceives the boundaries of the scientific enterprise and who is connected with science. For example, see Gieryn, Thomas F. 1999. “The Cultural Boundaries of Science: Credibility on the Line.” University of Chicago Press. For survey data on public perceptions of scientists see the 2012 General Social Survey questions collected on behalf of the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics and reported in “2014 Science and Engineering Indicators.”
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