In addition to a lackluster understanding of geography and history, Americans seem to have a woeful lack of knowledge on the individuals advancing scientific inquiry as we speak. That is, at least according to the 2013 Research!America poll featured above.
Such a figure is–and isn’t–surprising. A 2012 survey which involved 2,220 Americans revealed that while 90 percent of respondents were interested in new, medical breakthroughs and thought their benefits outweighed potential harm, only 74 percent of Americans knew that the Earth orbits the sun. Likewise, while some polls show that most Americans believe in climate change and evolution, others suggest that when it comes to pursuing a career in math and science, respondents opt out because they believe it is “too hard“. In other words, the interest is there; what’s really lacking is study and a culture that encourages that kind of inquiry.
Given shrinking and uncertain budgets (in fact, the National Institutes of Health reject half of worthwhile research proposals due to financial constraints) and public figures who tend to reject scientific developments or associate them with fear for political purposes, it’s not too shocking that more scientifically-savvy individuals pursue careers elsewhere. Perhaps when an embrace of science becomes politically useful again–after all, that’s how we ended up with NASA during the Cold War–the United States will take the field more seriously.