Most Americans believe that science can make life easier and more comfortable, but paradoxically they worry that strides in science make life change too quickly, according to a survey conducted for the National Science Foundation.
The survey also indicated that people between the ages of 18 and 24 are more wary of science than the generation before them, bucking a trend that the younger people are, the more favorably disposed to science they are.
Those most impressed by science were from 25 to 44 years old and have college degrees -- in other words, those who were in school during the surge of emphasis on science in education after the Soviets launched the Sputnik satellite in 1957. The elderly generally were more suspicious of science than the average.
The survey was based on 1,635 face-to-face interviews around the country. Analyses of the results will not be completed until this fall at the earliest, said foundation program officer Donald E. Buzzelli.
The results revealed a strong interest in science among all people, but especially among those with university degrees. Overall, 85 percent said they were at least moderately interested in issues relating to new scientific discoveries, although only 62 percent say they were informed on those issues.
Asked to name the two factors that contributed the most to U.S. influence around the world, more people named "our technological know-how" than any other factor. Those interviewed also agreed by a 6-to-1 ratio that the benefits of scientific research outweigh the harms.
This support for science also was indicated by overall agreement among 81 percent of those interviewed that scientific discoveries make life healthier, easier and more comfortable. Those in the 18-to-24-year-old category were least likely to agree with that statement.
Another side of public attitudes toward science, a hesitation about going too far too fast, emerged from other questions in the 125-question survey. Overall, 53 percent agreed that "scientific discoveries make our lives change too fast," and 37 percent concurred that "scientific discoveries tend to break down people's ideas of right and wrong." Those in the 18-to-24-year-old category were most likely to agree that discoveries break down notions of right and wrong.
Although those interviewed favored use of science to increase life expectancy, modify weather and detect criminal tendencies in young children, they opposed by 2 to 1 any studies that lead to creation of new forms of life.
Overall, those interviewed favored increased exploration of space by 2 to 1, although those in the youngest category were less enamored of space exploration than those of the Sputnik generation. By the same 2-to-1 ratio, those interviewed said they were against having a nuclear power plant in their area.
Although only 5 percent said they made decisions based on their astrological signs, 42 percent described astrology as "very scientific" or "sort of scientific." Young adults were especially likely to consider astrology scientific.