- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 1, 2002

We pine for science, really we do. But ESP, haunted houses, horoscopes, geeky stereotypes and a few aliens have so much more cachet the National Science Foundation says so.

The group has released "Indicators 2002," a mammoth overview, tallied every two years, of all things scientific. Americans, it seems, are interested in all those sparkling discoveries and inventions. Understanding them is another thing.

The NSF survey found that 90 percent of us say we're interested in science and technology but less than 15 percent say we're "very informed." Around 70 percent do not understand the classic "scientific process" of investigation and analysis.

This could have something to do with the media: The survey also found that only 2 percent of the most closely followed stories in the past 15 years covered scientific breakthroughs, research or exploration.

The public also trusts scientists more than journalists. The survey found that 41 percent of us have a "great deal" of confidence in our scientists; only 10 percent felt the same about the press.

But alas, the poor geeky scientist: There is a cultural bias against him. The survey also found that 25 percent of us think scientists are "odd," 29 percent think they are workaholics and another 53 percent say their work is "dangerous."

And how are we to judge? Only 2 percent of the characters on popular prime time TV are scientists, the survey found.

True to its own analytical roots, the survey called this syndrome "a stereotypical image deeply rooted in popular culture."

Despite such annoyances, the U.S. "occupies a position of strength in the support of research and development," the survey noted. America's research expenditures equal the combined total expenditures of Japan, Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Italy. U.S. scientists typically produce one-third of all articles published annually in influential technical journals.

Meanwhile, the paranormal is much more fun.

Sixty percent of the survey respondents believe that some people have psychic powers, and 41 percent felt that astrology has at least some scientific basis. These notions are in fact gaining popularity.

Belief in psychic healing, ESP, haunted houses, ghosts, aliens, communication with the dead and astrology has increased in the past decade. About 28 percent of us, for example, thought houses could be haunted in 1990. That figure has since increased to 43 percent.

About 18 percent of us believed people could telepathically reach out to the deceased back in 1990. The figure now stands at 28 percent.

But Americans do have feelings about some scientific issues.

Sixty one percent support genetically engineered food, 89 percent support genetic testing for inherited diseases, 47 percent support animal cloning and 53 percent said that humans evolved from lesser species.

More than two-thirds supported the idea that U.S. schools teach theories of evolution and creationism both.

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