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Scientists and the public often don't see eye to eye

Most people view scientists favorably, but the lack of scientific knowledge on controversial issues can impact policy decisions.

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Have you hugged a scientist today? Had dinner with one lately? Know anyone who knows someone who knows one? (Watching "Bones" doesn't count.)

If you answered "no" to any or all of these questions, you're not alone. That acquaintance gap symbolizes a broader cultural gap between many scientists and the rest of the public.

That gap is highlighted in new public-opinion research released today by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Pew Research Center, both in Washington.

And it's a gap that could lead society to make some unwise choices as a new set of science-related issues looms on the horizon, some science-policy specialists say.

On the one hand, the public generally has a very favorable view of scientists, despite the political tugging and hauling over global warming or teaching evolution as the last theory left standing to explain the emergence and development of life on Earth.

Some 67 percent of respondents said that while science conflicts with their religious beliefs, scientists make significant contributions to society's well-being. Slightly fewer (63 percent) of those who take a literal, biblical view of creation also acknowledge science's general contribution to society.

Over all, scientists as a group enjoy very high standing with the public. Some 70 percent of the respondents agreed that scientists contribute to the well-being of society, compared with 84 percent for the military and 77 percent for teachers. (For the record, only 38 percent of the respondents thought journalists contribute to society's well-being.)

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