New Polls Offer Positive Outlook On The Public's View of "Controversial" Science

By The Intersection | June 29, 2011 5:15 pm

This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D., a research scientist and policy wonk, who encourages the scientific community to get engaged in the policy-making process

Few things bring me as much pleasure as delivering good news. Today, the science headlines include two stories that fit that bill.

Scientific American reports on a Stanford Poll that shows,

“Candidates of either party who take an environmental stance on climate can gain the votes of some citizens while not alienating others.”

According to researchers at Stanford’s Woods Institute for the Environment, in the eyes of the American electorate, “there’s no heavy penalty or reward that will be attached to taking a position one way or another on the issue.” In fact, voters tend to favor political candidates who believe that humans have contributed to global warming and that the nation should move away from fossil fuels by investing in renewable sources of energy.

Global warming and the candidates’ reactions to it have already emerged as issues that will affect the 2012 Presidential Race. The fact that the public prefers candidates who embrace the science of anthropogenic global warming bodes well for political remedies as we go forward.

The second bit of good news that I’m pleased to deliver involves public opinion on embryonic stem cell research.

A study published in Nature Biotechnology this week has found that many Americans support the use of embryonic stem cell research for curing serious diseases. The researchers found that:

More than 70% of respondents support the use of therapeutic cloning and stem cells from in vitro fertilized embryos to cure cancer or treat heart attacks.

The study sheds light on how Americans make their decisions on this issue. Less than half (47%) of respondents support the same research for treating allergies.  This suggests that the decision to support the use of embryonic stem cells is highly influenced by the potential benefits of the controversial research. Further, the respondents largely base the decision on their personal judgment rather than deferring to the will of authority establishments such as their Church or government ethics committees. Interestingly, though, more individuals (21%) did follow the will of their church than followed the recommendations of their medical doctors (15%) or the U.S. National Institutes of Health (13%).

Both studies offer insight into the current American psyche in regards to controversial scientific issues (perhaps things aren’t as bad as we thought) and will surely be the subject of future posts here at The Intersection.

Follow Jamie Vernon on Twitter or read occasional posts at his personal blog, “American SciCo.”

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Comments (8)

  1. 1985

    More than 70% of respondents support the use of therapeutic cloning and stem cells from in vitro fertilized embryos to cure cancer or treat heart attacks.

    Of course, as usual, the survey didn’t make sure that the people answering it actually knew what they were answering. You really think that the average person on the street knows what a stem cell is? They probably just saw the key phrases “cure cancer” and “treat heart attacks” and went immediately “I’m for that”.

  2. Rob

    “Interestingly, though, more individuals (21%) did follow the will of their church than followed the recommendations of their medical doctors (15%) or the U.S. National Institutes of Health (13%).”

    Not particularly surprising, considering that the debate centers more around morality than effectiveness or safety. I have mad love for doctors and respect their opinions on matters of medicine, but I wouldn’t consider them a moral compass. Granted on many issues I wouldn’t look to the church for moral guidance either, but a lot of people do.

  3. Colin

    @ 1985:
    I absolutely agree. I guess I must be one of the 21% who defer to my religion and would refuse treatments based on embryonic stem cells for ethical reasons. I would also be one of the 70% above once I confirmed that they meant embryonic stem cells, which I’m sure they did.

  4. Bob Koss

    I searched high and low in the Stanford poll looking for the text of the green and non-green statements made. I couldn’t find them anywhere. The other statements made were all listed. Why not those? Make me rather suspicious of the even-handedness of the polling.

    I remember seeing a previous poll by this same guy. I wasn’t impressed with that one and I’m not any more impressed with this one.

  5. ╦heBigo╦

    I think it was Mark Twain whom once stated ” There are three kinds of lies. Lies, Damned lies and statistics “. Take a poll of 312,000,000 Americans then we might actually have an accurate poll for the first time. Not a small marginal sample of about 0.001% of the population.

  6. Chris Mooney

    The stem cell issue has been won for a long time. I’m not nearly so optimistic, Jamie, about climate change.

  7. 1985

    3. Colin Says:
    June 29th, 2011 at 7:53 pm
    @ 1985:
    I absolutely agree. I guess I must be one of the 21% who defer to my religion and would refuse treatments based on embryonic stem cells for ethical reasons. I would also be one of the 70% above once I confirmed that they meant embryonic stem cells, which I’m sure they did.

    1. The exact phrase is “therapeutic cloning and stem cells from in vitro fertilized embryos”. It is always a good idea to first read before one writes

    2. There isn’t going to be any cures from embryonic stem cells for a very long time. I highly doubt that many people who don’t really understand the subject would reply the same way if they did understand it better. If they understood it well, then they would be all for it, but that’s always going to be very few people

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