Americans’ perceptions of science have remained generally positive and stable over time in recent decades. Confidence in science and scientists to act in the best interests of the public, as measured by public opinion surveys, has remained generally high among Americans for decades despite changes in social discourse, technology, and health. At the same time, Americans’ perceptions of science are not universally held, and at least some perceptions—such as trust in science and scientists—are associated with factors that vary between Americans such as comprehension of how professional scientific inquiry occurs.

Perceptions of S&T also can change over time as people gain more experience with new technologies or concepts. Recent literature highlights the potential for changes in public perceptions of new science topics, such as AI and neurotechnology. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic also appears to have made, at least temporarily, the contributions of science and scientists more evident to Americans.

The nature and extent of Americans’ engagement with S&T information is multifaceted. Americans report seeking information on science more than the populations in most other countries with high levels of R&D spending, especially information about medicine and health. News coverage of scientific research that benefits society also appears to sometimes bolster positive perceptions of science. At the same time, a minority of Americans report recent, direct experience with science activities such as making observations for a research project or participating in a crowdsourcing activity to identify animals, and Americans do not universally report comprehension of important aspects of scientific processes. Moreover, participation in science activities varies by factors such as income and education.

Although Americans report having interest in at least certain types of S&T information, the majority of Americans report not knowing a lot about science and generally do not report regular and direct experience with scientific activities. That pattern suggests that direct exposure to how S&T professionals conduct their work to generate peer-reviewed research publications has been limited among Americans, and future changes in such exposure could hold implications for Americans’ relationships with S&T institutions.