Americans’ Trust in Scientists and Positive Views of Science Continue to Decline
Sunday, November 19th, 2023
This week’s core story is about: Americans’ faith in science.
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KNEAD TO KNOW
A new report by more than 750 experts with 14 federal entities found the U.S. experienced 89 climate disasters from 2018 to 2022 that caused at least $1 billion in damages (about one disaster every three weeks). The Fifth National Climate Assessment is the most complete and authoritative assessment of climate change in the U.S. to date, evaluating the risks and impacts across regions and economic sectors, and emphasizing the steps governments are taking to address global warming.
A new treatment authorized by the U.K.’s medicines regulator is the world’s first approved therapy that uses the CRISPR gene-editing tool as a treatment. The therapy, called Casgevy, is used to treat sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia, two genetic conditions caused by errors in the genes for hemoglobin, which red blood cells use to circulate oxygen around the body. The landmark decision could transform the treatment of the conditions and open new doors for the use of CRISPR technology.
A new initiative announced by the Biden administration will be the first White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research. The initiative, which will be led by First Lady Jill Biden and the White House Gender Policy Council, will address inequities in healthcare research and improve how the federal government approaches and funds research on the health of women. “When I brought this issue to my husband, Joe, a few months ago, he listened. And then he took action,” said the first lady. “That is what he does.”
A new study by researchers at George Mason University found exposure to common pesticides is linked to decreased sperm concentrations in men around the world. The researchers systematically reviewed 25 human studies conducted over the past five decades examining environmental and occupational exposure to two widely used insecticide classes, organophosphates and N-methyl carbamates, finding “consistent evidence of robust associations between insecticide exposure and lower sperm concentration.” “The evidence available has reached a point that we must take regulatory action to reduce insecticide exposure,” said senior author Melissa Perry.
Americans’ Trust in Scientists and Positive Views of Science Continue to Decline
A new report by the Pew Research Center highlights Americans’ ongoing backlash against science since the start of the COVID pandemic, finding fewer say they trust scientists and a decline in the share who say science has had a mostly positive effect on society.
Pew found 73% of U.S. adults say they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in scientists to act in the public’s best interests, 14 percentage points lower than measured in the early stages of the COVID pandemic (87% in April 2020). At the same time, the share saying they have not too much or no confidence at all has more than doubled, climbing from 12% in 2020 to 27% today.
While trust in scientists has fallen among both of America’s major political parties, the decline is much more pronounced among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.
According to Pew, 38% of Republicans now say they have not too much or no confidence at all in scientists to act in the public’s best interests, a dramatic increase from 14% of Republicans in 2020. As distrust has grown, the share of Republicans saying they have a fair amount or great deal of trust in scientists has fallen, declining from 85% in 2020 to 61% today.
Among Democrats, overall trust in scientists has fallen slightly from 91% in 2020 to 86% today. However, the share that says they have a great deal of trust (the highest level in the survey) has fallen more dramatically, down from 52% in 2020 to 37% today.
Regarding the effect of science on society, Pew found 57% of Americans today believe science has had a mostly positive effect, down from 73% before the pandemic (January 2019), while the share that say it’s been equally positive and negative has grown from 23% in 2019 to 34% today.
Looking at partisan differences, Republicans have also become more negative when it comes to the effect of science on society.
The report found just 47% of Republicans today say science has had a mostly positive effect on society, down from 70% in 2019, while the share that says it’s been equally positive and negative has grown from 27% in 2019 to 40% today. Even worse, the share that says it’s had a mostly negative effect has quadrupled, jumping from 3% in 2019 to 12% today.
Why it matters:
While the findings paint a damning and frankly embarrassing picture of the relationship between science and a substantial share of American adults, it’s important to note the broad majority don’t share their views.
Despite the decline in trust in scientists and positive views of science, Pew also found substantial majorities of Americans say government investments in science are worthwhile for society over time (78%) and believe it’s important for the U.S. to be a world leader in scientific achievements (89%).
So, is America an anti-science nation? No, not even close.
People Lacking Social Connections Have a Greater Risk of Premature Death
A new study by researchers at the University of Glasgow in Scotland found people who lack frequent social contacts and often feel socially isolated may be at a higher risk of premature death, particularly when they lack both types of social connections.
The researchers say their work builds on previous research finding insufficient social connections, like feeling lonely or not seeing loved ones often, is linked to a higher risk of premature death, though their study shows lacking multiple forms of social connection further increased the risk of dying prematurely.
The World Health Organization this week launched a new Commission on Social Connection (unrelated to the present study) to address the health impacts of loneliness, promote social connection, and accelerate solutions globally.
Taller Cars and Trucks Are More Deadly for U.S. Pedestrians
A new analysis by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found pickups, SUVs, and vans with a hood height greater than 40 inches are around 45% more likely to cause fatalities in pedestrian crashes than vehicles with a hood height of 30 inches or less.
The analysis, which included 17,897 crashes involving a single passenger vehicle and single pedestrian, also found the shape of the front of the vehicle matters. Among medium-height vehicles (30 to 40 inches), those with a blunt (i.e., vertical) front profile were 26% more likely to cause pedestrian fatalities than those with sloped front profiles.
Over the past 30 years, the average U.S. passenger vehicle has gotten 4 inches wider, 10 inches longer, 8 inches taller, and 1,000 pounds heavier, according to the IIHS.
Next Year Could Be the First Time Gen Z Workers Outnumber Boomers
A new report by Glassdoor found Gen Z is poised to overtake Baby Boomers in the full-time workforce by early 2024, representing a “pivotal moment” that U.S. companies can’t ignore as Gen Z workers – who care deeply about workplace issues like community, feeling heard, transparency, and diversity and inclusion – comprise a rapidly growing share of the labor force.
The report found Millennial and Gen X workers will still outnumber Gen Z for some time, as Millennials are poised to dominate the workforce for many years to come and Gen Z workers aren’t expected to outnumber them until sometime in the early 2040s.
Boomers were the largest generation in the full-time workforce from the 1970s to 2011, and Gen X had a brief period of dominance from 2012 to 2018, according to the report.
OUTSIDE THE LOX
Rats Have an Imagination, Just Like Humans
A new study by researchers at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute used a novel method combining virtual reality and a brain-machine interface to probe a rat’s thoughts, finding they can think about places and objects that aren’t immediately in front of them, and can use their thoughts to imagine walking to a location or moving an object to a specific spot.
Like humans, when animals experience places and events, specific neural activity patterns are activated in the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in recalling past events and imagining future scenarios. However, until now, scientists weren’t sure whether animals could voluntarily control this neural activity.
Without getting lost in the weeds, the researchers used their novel method to find rats can indeed voluntarily generate the same neural activity patterns and control their hippocampal activity like humans, doing so to recall remote objects and locations away from their current position.
“To imagine is one of the remarkable things that humans can do,” said study author Albert Lee. “Now we have found that animals can do it too, and we found a way to study it.”
5.8 years - The difference in life expectancy between U.S. women (79.1 years) and men (73.2 years) in 2021, according to a new study by researchers at Harvard University and the University of California, San Francisco. The figure represents the largest disparity in life expectancy since 1996 and an increase from 4.8 years in 2010, when the disparity was the smallest.
6.2 days - The number of consecutive days (October 31 to November 6) Portugal met 100% of its energy demands with renewables, according to new data from Portuguese energy company REN. The country supplied all of its industrial and household energy consumption needs with renewables for 149 consecutive hours, topping its previous record of 131 hours in 2019.
19 - The number of volcanoes simultaneously erupting worldwide as of November 14, according to new data compiled by the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program (GVP). Experts from the GVP say the number of eruptions, which includes the recent event in Iceland, is normal as there are generally around 40 to 50 eruptions happening at any given time.
Long Video. Learn how SpaceX’s Starlink has come to dominate the sky. (19 min)
Short Video. Here are six myths about the Middle Ages that everyone believes. (5 min)
Fun Video. Scientists are learning weird things about the physics of extreme pressure. (12 min)
Good Read. In honor of The Crown’s final season, here’s a long read on how Princess Diana’s death changed the royal family. (2,810 words; 14 min)
Neat List. National Geographic unveiled its 2023 Pictures of the Year list.
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Written by Ryan Wittler