Healio Special Report: Health Care and Politics
Healio Special Report: Health Care and Politics
September 20, 2017
3 min read

More Democrats than Republicans OK with how media covers science

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Credit: Shutterstock.com
According to a new poll, more Democrats than Republicans say the news media does a good job of covering science news.
Source: Shutterstock.com

More Democrats than Republicans think the news media does a good job of covering science, according to the results of a new study.

The Pew Research Center polled more than 4,000 U.S. adults and found that although most — 54% — regularly get their science news from general news outlets that cover a range of topics, just 28% believed these sources get the facts right. Specialty sources, including museums, science magazines and documentaries, were trusted more, with around half of respondents saying they are accurate most of the time.

Overall, the poll found that 17% of Americans are “active news users” — people who seek out and consume science news at least a few times per week. The poll found that Americans are more interested in stories about health and medicine than any of the other options they were given, including food and nutrition, technology, energy and environment, the mind and the brain, space and astronomy and the evolution of humans and animals.

Democrats and Republicans, including independents who lean one way or the other, are about equally likely to be active news users — 17% vs. 18% — but there is a difference in opinion of how supporters of each party view the results. More Democrats than Republicans said the news media do a good job of covering science — 64% to 50% — according to the poll.

“Despite wide political divides in views about some science-related issues, such as climate change and energy, U.S. adults from both sides of the aisle are quite similar in their levels of interest, consumption and tendency to get science news from general news outlets,” Amy Mitchell, director of journalism research at Pew, said in a news release.

“At the same time, however, we see political divides in judgments about science news as roughly two-thirds of Democrats say the news media do at least a somewhat good job in covering science, while Republicans are more evenly divided — figures which are in sync with party line views about the media overall.”

Overall, 57% of respondents said the news media do a good job covering science, a finding that jibes with a past Pew study that showed 61% think the media do a good job reporting on issues related to childhood vaccination for measles, mumps and rubella. However, it contrasts with Pew research published in July showing that 44% of Democrats and 85% of Republicans think the news media have a negative effect on the country.


Americans see some fault in the way science news is covered, according to the new poll, with 43% calling it a big problem that the media reports findings that may not hold up. Moreover, 40% said a large number of findings makes it difficult to distinguish between high- and low-quality studies. Asked to choose, respondents said how the media cover scientific research was a bigger problem than the way researchers publish their findings, by a margin of 73% to 24%.

Some other notable findings from the poll, which was conducted between May 30 and June 12:

44% said the public does not know enough about science, and 42% said the public jumps to conclusions about how to apply study findings to their own lives;

44% of users see science news on social media sites that they would not have encountered elsewhere, but 52% mostly distrust these posts compared with 26% who trust them;

27% of users have seen health advice from celebrities on social media, “a phenomenon with the potential to both help and hurt public understanding of these topics,” the report said; and

81% of U.S. adults encounter science-related content from TV shows and movies about criminal investigations, hospitals and medical settings or science fiction, but 57% say it does not impact their understanding of science, technology and medicine.

Pew director of science and society Cary Funk, PhD, said questions remain about how the public gets information about science topics.

“We find a core group of Americans who are active science news consumers, and this group is distinctive in how they use and evaluate science news,” she said in the release. “Some science-related information also reaches a large segment of the public through other avenues, including informal learning venues, such as museums, and science-related entertainment media.”

For the complete findings, click on the link below. – by Gerard Gallagher


Pew Research Center. Science news and information today. 2017. http://www.journalism.org/2017/09/20/science-news-and-information-today/. Accessed September 20, 2017.

Disclosures: Funk and Mitchell work for Pew.