Research!America

Most Americans Cannot Name Even a Single Living Scientist

This is bad.

SCIENCE AF STAFF
9 JAN 2018
 

Where would we be without scientists? Despite the indispensable contributions to society from the great minds of this amazing field, a shocking number of Americans are unacquainted with the scientific community and those responsible for scientific advances.

 

A new survey from Research!America reveals 81 percent of Americans cannot name even a single living scientist.

Yep, you read that right. Not. One.

Of the paltry 19 percent who can actually recall a living scientist, 27 percent named Stephen Hawking, 19 percent named Neil deGrasse Tyson and 5 percent named Bill Nye.

Jane Goodall — apparently the only living female scientist the American public can remember — was mentioned by 2 percent of those surveyed.

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But, OK, maybe you're thinking, "Science isn't about just one person. I'm sure most Americans are aware of many prominent scientific institutions, like the NIH or the CDC."

Sadly not.

More than two-thirds of those surveyed (67 percent) were unable to name a single institution, company or organization where medical or health research is conducted.

Furthermore, less than a quarter of Americans (21 percent) are even aware that scientific research is conducted in all 50 states, with 50 percent of those surveyed stating they were "not sure."

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"The findings related to the visibility of scientists and the scientific community have been consistent over the past decade—woefully low—which indicates a need for stronger engagement between scientists and the public," said Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America. 

"In order for science to have a more prominent position in our national agenda, the public and their policymakers must hear more from scientists about the health and economic benefits of public and private sector research."

 

Being able to name a scientist or a scientific institution isn't a casual luxury, it is an important part of knowing what's driving civilization forward.

The greatest medicinal and technological advances are rooted in scientific research and inquiry. Yet if most Americans cannot name an influential scientist or institution, how can we begin to fathom their importance?

If we want an educated and informed public that is able to see through political and religious ideology to the scientific truth, the public needs to be educated and informed.

Yet too many politicians - with no background in science and no understanding of basic scientific principles - are lying to the public about scientific issues while supporting extreme budget cuts to the most important scientific institutions in the country.

If President Trump had his way, funding for the National Institute of Health would drop from $31.8 billion to $26 billion, the National Cancer Institute would be hit with a $1 billion cut compared to its 2017 budget, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute would experience a $575 million cut, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases would be slashed by $838 million. 

 

The problem is this: If most Americans are unable to name even one of these medical institutions, how are we to know when these agencies are at risk of being gutted?

Going even further: How are we to know what impact these budgetary cuts will have on our health and well-being?

The truth is, most Americans have no idea how calamitous these cuts would be on programs which protect the public from cancer, diabetes, heart attacks and other deadly illnesses.

And it's not because we aren't interested in better healthcare. The same survey found 79 percent of Americans agree it is important for President Trump to assign a high priority to health research and innovation.

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But even though Trump's proposed cuts to biomedical research were widely condemned by scientists and public health advocates, and even though his administration has been called out for waging "a war against science," 46 percent of Americans believe great strides in science and innovation will continue while Donald Trump is President, according to the recent survey.

Clearly there is a message that is not being communicated.

 

In 2018, we need actual living scientists to engage with the public. We need experts and educators to explain how science and research affects our lives on a daily basis. We must urge scientists to take on political issues like healthcare and lend their well informed opinions to policymaking.

"Scientists must initiate productive conversations with candidates to connect the dots between research and finding solutions to health threats like Alzheimer's disease and the opioid epidemic," said Woolley.

Scientists need to reach out to voters in 2018, because guess what? A majority of Americans think scientists should play a major role in shaping policy for medical and health research (83 percent), for drug safety and efficacy (81 percent), for air and water quality (81 percent), and for the environment (75 percent), according to the Research!America survey.

There's no doubt about it, Americans want - and need - scientists to get more involved.