Survey: Low Confidence News Outlets Get Science ‘Mostly’ Right

The majority of Americans get their science news from general news outlets, but only a little over a quarter say those outlets get that science at least mostly right.

That is according to a new survey from Pew Research, which found that 54% regularly get their science news from general news outlets but that only 28% of respondents said that those outlets get the science right "most of the time."

By contrast, about half said that specialty sources—museums, science magazines, documentaries—get it right most of the time.

A majority (57%) said the media do a good job overall, but 43% said it is a "big problem" that the news media are quick to report scientific findings that might not ultimately hold up.

There is a political divide over perceptions of news coverage, perhaps not surprising given the political divide over climate change, funding for scientific research, and energy issues. Only 22% of Republicans said general news outlets got science news mostly right, while 34% of Democrats said so. A majority of Democrats (64%) said the media generally did a good job of covering science, while only half of Republicans said so.

The divide is even wider when it comes to reporting on scientific research, with 53% of Republicans saying the media are too quick to report findings that may not hold up and saying that is a "big problem," but only 36% of Democrats saying so.

The study found that a large majority or respondents (81%) also "at least sometimes" encounter scientific content in entertainment shows—medical, science fiction, criminal investigations. Most recognize that realism is often sacrificed for entertainment, however, but most (57%) said they don't think the shows hurt their understanding of science, while 30% said they actually help, with 11% saying they hurt their understanding.

The study was conducted May 30-June 12 among 4,024 adults 18-plus. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6 percentage points.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.