First, the good news. According to the latest annual 3M State of Science Index (SoSI), Americans of all ages have exceptionally high trust in science: 89 percent of younger generations (Gen Z and millennials) and 88 percent of older generations (Gen X and baby boomers) agree this is true.
These numbers also exceed pre-pandemic trust indicators. Pre-pandemic, 86 percent of those surveyed said they trust science, and 79 percent reported a trust for scientists. Post-pandemic, the percentages grew to 90 percent and 86 percent, respectively.
There is also a trend toward increased expectations in terms of science taking the lead to solve societal issues such as sustainability and healthcare. According to the SoSI, Americans want science in the driver’s seat giving priority to solutions for things like a clean water supply and sanitation (61 percent), air quality (53 percent), equal access to quality healthcare (50 percent) and the effects of climate change (48 percent).
For certain populations within the U.S., these priorities have leaped off the blackboard and occupy concern in their personal lives. Seventy-nine percent of Black Americans and 76 percent of U.S. Hispanics are concerned they or a loved one may be displaced from where they live in the future due to extreme weather related to climate change.
Threats to one’s local environment can create a health concern for people of color. Urban versus rural populations, asphalt versus "green space" living, are two of many instances of less healthy environments. Often these neighborhoods come with higher temperatures and increased emissions, as well as increased exposure to illnesses due to living in such dense spaces.
There is more good news in terms of Americans’ addiction to fossil fuels. Consumption of petroleum, natural gas, and coal dropped by 9 percent in 2019 compared to 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). This is the biggest annual decrease since the EIA started keeping track in 1949.
Still, in January 2022, natural gas consumption in the United States averaged 31.6 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), the highest January average on record and the highest amount for any winter month.
But if “knowledge itself is power,” as Francis Bacon said in 1597, then the consequences of lack of information — or worse, false information — can be devastating, as is the opinion of those surveyed in the 3M SoSI. (For the purposes of the SoSI, misinformation is defined as false or inaccurate information, especially that which is deliberately meant to sway views/opinions.)
Sixty-one percent of those surveyed indicated that false information — whether published online, in print or broadcast or TV news — can contribute to public health crises. Fifty-seven percent believe it creates more division within society, and 53 percent actually think it increases the effects of climate change.
Regardless of subject, 92 percent of Americans say misinformation is prevalent on social media, and 78 percent say that misinformation is prevalent in traditional news.
Perhaps nothing has tested the science and our faith in it as has the recent and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with all its variants, and the science which proves the value of vaccines. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the unvaccinated have three times the reported rate for COVID-19 than the vaccinated.
From April 4 through Dec. 25, 2021, more than 6.8 million cases of COVID-19 were reported among the unvaccinated, compared to less than 2.9 million among those who received a COVID-19 vaccine. Opposing science became a form of misinformation resulting in tragedy.
During the same period of time, NPR reported a correlation between political party and COVID-19 outcomes in that the reddest tenth of the country saw death rates that were six times higher than the bluest tenth.
Despite the cautions coming from science, 20 states — all with Republican governors — restricted or banned proof-of-vaccination requirements through passing laws or executive orders. And 36 “red” states have ended mask requirements through executive order.
But did misinformation cause the increase in the COVID-19 rate for infection and mortality in those geographic areas where the disease was more prevalent? Where the media or politicians insist on propaganda in defiance of established medical and scientific data, there must be a contradictory view to go with new messaging. So, to answer that question: probably.
Image credit: Julia Koblitz via Unsplash
Gloria Johns' career has included her work as a columnist for Scripps-Howard, Gannett and Tribune News Service. She writes for the San Angelo Standard Times and the West Texas Angelus. Previously she was a special features reporter for San Angelo LIVE! Gloria also has nearly thirty years of award-winning grant writing experience for federal, state and county funds to support social, medical, educational and arts projects. She has enjoyed a successful career in telecommunications and nonprofit management. "Gloria is a Purdue University graduate. She has also attended Angelo State University for graduate courses and studied Texas Family Law at Sam Houston State University. She lives just on the edge of the Chihuahua desert in west Texas.