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Press Release 96-025
Americans Lead the World in Computer Use, but Have Little Understanding of Science, Says New Report

May 23, 1996

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

  • Many Americans have little understanding of science. They expect science can cure virtually every disease and solve any environmental problem.

  • A majority--55 percent--of Americans use a computer at home or at work. Seven percent of adults reported in 1995 that they used an on-line computer service during the preceding year.

  • About 40 percent of Americans are "very confident" in the leadership of the scientific and medical communities, but only one in nine Americans feel well informed about science and technology.

  • Only one in four Americans can explain some of the reasons for the thinning of the ozone layer, and fewer than one in 10 can explain a molecule.

  • Education prompts interest and understanding: Individuals with more years of formal education and more courses in science and math tend to indicate a high level of interest in science and technology and are more likely to understand the nature of scientific inquiry than other citizens.

These are among findings measuring public attitudes and understanding of science and technology, appearing in the newly published National Science Board report, Science & Engineering Indicators 1996. The Board oversees the National Science Foundation, which produces the biennial compendium of vital statistics to help decision-makers assess the performance of the nation's science and engineering (S&E) enterprise.

"More than eight of 10 Americans believe that science and technology continue to make their lives healthier, easier and more comfortable, reflecting nearly two decades of positive assessment of the net impact of science and technology on their lives and society," says Jon D. Miller, vice president of the Chicago Academy of Sciences and professor of political science at Northern Illinois University.

"Although most American adults have a limited understanding of basic science constructs, they are using a wide array of new technologies in their own lives," Miller says. "In 1995, a majority of Americans reported using a computer at home, work, or both--a level higher than any other nation." Miller compiled and interpreted the data on public attitudes and understanding of science and technology for S&E Indicators.

S&E Indicators also contains data on the national and international S&E work force, technology development, investment in research and development, elementary and secondary school science and mathematics education, and higher education's role in science and technology. Required by law, S&E Indicators is submitted by the National Science Board (NSB) to the president of the United States, who delivers it to Congress.

The NSB "recognizes the importance of monitoring the impact of science and technology on the lives of Americans," says Phillip A. Griffiths, who chaired the Committee on Science and Engineering Indicators and oversaw preparation of the report for the Board. "The Board hopes that our nation's leaders and educators will take note of the American public's interest in science and its need for deeper understanding of the scientific process of discovery."

-NSF-

Media Contacts
George Chartier, NSF, (703) 292-8070, gchartie@nsf.gov

Program Contacts
Jennifer Bond, NSF, (703) 292-8777, jbond@nsf.gov

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, its budget is $7.2 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

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