Americans Fear Decline in U.S. Performance in Math and Science

Education/Action Needed to Protect U.S. Global Leadership
Thursday, February 1, 2007

WASHINGTON—Feb. 1, 2007—More than half of Americans (52%) don't believe the U.S. is performing well in science and math education compared to other nations, but they know science is very important (85%), according to a recent poll commissioned by Research!America. Most (87%) rate being a scientist as one of the most prestigious careers, yet 75% can't name a living scientist. Sixty-four percent don't think average Americans are knowledgeable about science, and 76% think it is very important that young people are encouraged to pursue scientific careers, and that more opportunities for these careers are created.

The poll also found that Americans see the role of science as most important to our health and to eliminating disease, as compared to other societal issues. However, Americans understand the growing interdisciplinary nature of medical progress. While a majority (66%) say that the most important scientific research today takes place in medical and health-related fields, they also say medical progress is greatly influenced by research in chemistry (83%), computer science (62%), physics (58%), math (56%) and engineering (49%). Six in ten (59%) Americans also say that we would make more progress in research to improve health if scientists from different fields are encouraged to work together."

"To address today's unprecedented opportunities in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce, we must retool our education system to educate our young people in math and science more effectively and nurture the innate abilities of all young people, regardless of gender or race, to enter a STEM field of study," said Arden Bement Jr., PhD, director, National Science Foundation. "In addition, our national priorities in the global information age should emphasize investment in basic research and a greater collaboration between the private and public sectors in R&D performance."

Bement was the keynote speaker today at a research partners forum, "Bridging the Sciences: Investment and Innovation," hosted at the National Press Club by Research!America and Abbott, a leading global healthcare company, where these and other findings were unveiled. Forum panelists and other participants included local and national leaders in research, business, academia, government and media.

The poll also found that nearly all (97%) think it is important that the U.S. be a global leader in scientific research. Most (97%) also believe scientific research is important to the U.S. economy, as are the biotech and pharmaceutical industries specifically (94%). Ninety-four percent also say investing in scientific research is important in terms of job creation and higher incomes.

"We need to encourage young people to take a stronger interest in science and also encourage scientists to work more across disciplines. Both will lead to new approaches and advances in the laboratory and ultimately to new tools and treatments for patients," said William E. Brown III, PhD, vice president, Diagnostic Assays and Systems Development, Abbott.

Other key findings of the poll include:

  • 70% want more media coverage of science and research;
  • 67% see science as very important to the U.S. standard of living; and
  • 67% see scientific research as very important in addressing global warming and 61% in eliminating poverty and hunger around the world.

"It's clear that Americans believe the U.S. must provide stronger funding and more consistent policies to support the public and private sectors in research at the intersection of scientific disciplines," said Mary Woolley, president of Research!America. "We ask them to reach out to Congress and make their voices heard."

Research! America has been gauging Americans' attitudes toward research for 15 years.

About Research!America
Research!America is the nation's largest not-for-profit public education and advocacy alliance working to make research to improve health a higher national priority.

Research!America commissioned Charlton Research Company to conduct a telephone survey of 800 adults across the nation, ages 18 and older. The survey was conducted in December 2006, and the sample is proportionate to the nation's demographics, including geography, gender, income and ethnicity, with a statistical precision of ± 3.5 %.

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Without continued support for health research, many of the most promising young scientists, their ideas and a myriad of potentially life-changing scientific breakthroughs will vanish into oblivion.
Paul Marinec, PhD; University of California San Francisco