Turns out, we really do love science! The latest Pew/AAAS study illustrates that Americans are totally into science.
We think science has made our lives easier. Although, apparently not quite as easy as it was in 2009.
We also think we should fund the hell out of science. Seriously, over 70% of the country believes that funding both basic and applied science pays off in the end. Let us compare that to the approximate 14% of country that approves of our august Congress.
You can even make it more specific and ask people if that funding has to come from the government and 60% of people will stay yes.
As a profession, we love scientists almost as much as we love the military, teachers, and medical doctors – no really, those are the four professions that us citizens think provide the most benefit to society.1
So, go us, General Public. We are super into science, we will give scientists lots of money, everyone wants to grow up to be a scientist. Oh wait. Except for, you know, scientists.
That’s right, 40-ish% of scientists think that this is not a good time to be a scientist or to begin a career as a scientist.
Turns out, scientists don’t actually feel the love. Or perhaps more accurately – the funding.
Well, perceptions are funny things. Is this blowback from the treadmill shrimp scandal? In case you have forgotten this epic scientific discussion: in 2011 hilarity ensued about the absurdity of spending money on shrimp treadmills. Except the scientists putting shrimp on treadmills pointed out that their work was studying immune responses, and the treadmill cost around $47 not, as we were to believe, $3 million.2
Maybe scientists are just mad because people mock their life’s work on the floor of the Congress and whatnot.
Another possible explanation: the budget for the entire College of Art and Science at the University of Alabama: $71 million. Sounds good, right? Well, let’s do a little math. There are 22 departments in that college. Sure, they might not be divided evenly, but that’s somewhere around $3.2 million mark per department.3 The coach of the Crimson Tide? Over $7 million.4
Oh yeah, there are a million justifications for this from the sportsball fans, but just let that sink in: one coach is worth more to the University than entire academic departments – and then tell me that there isn’t something wrong with our priorities. Something that could possibly leave scientists feeling a little undervalued, despite the hardcore love from the general public.
But you know what? It turns out that the attitudes of scientists have nothing to do with perception. Scientists are right. It is harder to get federal funding. Because we substantially cut federal funding for the sciences.
The Department of Defense spent 75 times the amount spent by the National Science Foundation. In real numbers, that is $518 Billion in comparison to $7.2 Billion. But shrimp treadmills are really the problem, right Congress?
We need a new Vannevar Bush – someone who can champion science. Because, realistically, mainstream media is not capturing the basic results of this survey: that the vast majority of American genuinely support both science and scientific funding. The voices of the naysayers are perhaps so sensationalistic that it allows the media to disguise this base level of agreement.
Now, go read this study. At least the summary of findings. The study is far ranging: it talks about our perceptions of STEM education, our understanding of scientific concepts and controversies, scientists concerns about the future of science.
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