Scientists and the Public Disagree on Key Issues

29:31 minutes

UPDATE, May 20, 2015: The research discussed by Michael LaCour, entitled “When contact changes minds: An experiment on transmission of support for gay equality,” has been retracted. Click here for more information from Retraction Watch. Click here for coverage by Vox.com.


Are genetically modified foods safe to eat? Are humans mostly to blame for climate change? Should vaccines be required? Scientists overwhelmingly answer “yes” to all questions. But the American people don’t agree, according to a survey of thousands of scientists and adults in the United States. Lee Rainie of the Pew Research Center unpacks the results, while Tim O’Brien of the University of Evansville talks about how religious adults view science.

Given the large divide between scientists and the public, is it possible to shift public opinion on controversial scientific issues? Michael LaCour of UCLA discusses his work on changing voters’ minds about LGBT issues, and whether a similar tactic might work for scientific issues.

This debate isn’t new. For example, in this archival clip from SciFri in 2008, infectious disease specialist Paul Offit talks to a caller about whether or not vaccines can harm children.

Segment Guests

Lee Rainie

Lee Rainie is director of internet, science, and technology research at the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C.

Michael LaCour

Michael LaCour is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science and Statistics and affiliate at the California Center for Population Research at the University of California, Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O’Brien is assistant professor of sociology at University of Evansville in Evansville, Indiana.

Brendan Nyhan

Brendan Nyhan is a professor of government at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Meet the Producer

About Christopher Intagliata

Christopher Intagliata was Science Friday’s senior producer. He once served as a prop in an optical illusion and speaks passable Ira Flatowese.