Most Americans Blame Media for Distorting Science

WASHINGTON (CN) – Nearly three-quarters of American adults think their science news is subject to media distortion, a study published Wednesday by the Pew Research Center says.

Though the media took the lion’s share of blame for muddying the waters when it comes to science news, the 91-page report says respondents also voiced scorn for researcher practices and the public itself.

Americans were roughly even in criticizing the public as too ignorant of science to make sense of the news they read (44 percent) and too eager to jump to conclusions about how to apply the findings to their lives (42 percent).

While more than half of those polled said they got their science news from general sources, the study found that the most trusted sources for science news are science and technology museums, documentaries or other science video programs, and science magazines.

Roughly half of Americans reported that these sources get the facts right either “almost all” or “more than half” of the time.

The study also finds that Americans trust government agencies and science podcasts or radio segments slightly more than general news outlets.

Climate change is the most commonly cited topic of stories Americans reported seeing as dividing scientific experts. As compared with the 32 percent of adults who reported disagreement among experts on climate change, every other issue (health, nutrition, evolution and space) was reported as being at least four times less divisive among experts.

The study found that one in six U.S. adults, or 17 percent, are “active science news consumers,” meaning that they both get science news at least a few times a week and tend to seek it out.

Pew describes the active science news consumers as people who “enjoy following science news more than news on other topics, turn to more types of science news providers, are more likely to discuss science with others, and of those on social media are more likely to follow science pages or accounts.”

In contrast to this group, however, Pew found that 49 percent of U.S. adults are “uninterested science news consumers” who get science news infrequently and mostly come across it.

The remaining 32 percent were considered “casual science news consumers,” who fall somewhere in the middle; they either frequently get science news or seek it out, but not both.

Among casual and uninterested science news consumers, 71 percent and 81 respectively rely on general news sources for most of their science news. The 54 percent figure represents all consumers.

The study found that Republicans and Democrats are equally likely to be active science news consumers, both at around 17 percent, but Democrats are more likely to think the media do a good job covering science.

Nearly two-thirds of Democrats (64 percent) say the news media do at least a somewhat good job in covering science, while the study found Republicans are more evenly divided.

The study found that while quarter of adults surveyed see “a lot” or “some” science posts on social media outlets, only a third consider it an important way they get science news.

Pew reported that 52 percent of social-media users mostly distrust social-media posts about science.

The 91-page report is drawn from the results of survey conducted among a nationally representative sample of 4,024 adults, ages 18 or older, from May 30 to June 12, 2017.

The margin of error is 1.6 percentage points.

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