Five factors that assess well-being of science predict support for science funding

A new study from the Annenberg Public Policy Center introduces an assessment model to gauge the extent to which public perceptions align with the way scientists define their work.

A new study identifies five factors that Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) researchers say reflect public assessments of science and are associated with public support for increasing funding of science and support for federal funding of basic research. These factors are whether science and scientists are perceived to be credible and prudent, and whether their work is perceived to be untainted by bias, self-correcting, and beneficial.

A doctor being interviewed for a podcast.
Image: iStock/PrathanChorruangsak

Drawing on 13 questions in APPC’s 2022 nationally representative Annenberg Science Knowledge survey (ASK) survey, researchers identified five factors that form a model which can be used to assess the extent to which public perceptions align with the self-presentation of science and scientists live up to the ways in which they define themselves and their work to the public.

The research team, includes APPC director and founder of the ASK survey Kathleen Hall Jamieson, and Patrick E. Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Health & Risk Communication Institute.

The team examined public perceptions of the extent to which scientists are credible and prudent, science or scientists adhere to their professed norms, and produce societal benefit and benefits for people like the survey respondents.

The study finds that among conservatives, increased perceptions that scientists are unbiased and prudent were positively associated with increased support for federal funding of basic scientific research. Among liberals, increased support for federal funding of basic scientific research was positively associated with heightened perception that science produces beneficial research.

The researchers say the study helps to track “gaps” between science and scientists’ “professed and perceived identity, spot areas that may require corrective action or better communication, and monitor fears about or attacks on science.” Isolating factors on which conservatives and liberals differ helps advance understanding of the partisan responses to increased federal funding of science and support for basic researchers, the study says.

“Because they reliably reduce to five factors with significant predictive power, the ASK survey’s core questions make it possible to isolate both stability and changes in public perception of science and scientists across time,” says Kathleen Hall Jamieson. “APPC plans to field the survey yearly as a means of tracking public assessments of the well-being of science.”

Read more at Annenberg Public Policy Center.