Public perceptions of science and technology (S&T) in the United States affect many aspects of civic life. Those perceptions predict participation in formal science education (Graves et al. 2022; Vincent-Ruz and Schunn 2018), support for investment in S&T (Besley 2018; Muñoz, Moreno, and Luján 2012), and how people talk about scientific discoveries (Southwell and Torres 2006). Public encounters with, and understanding of, science can also help predict behavior toward scientific organizations and future patterns of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) training (VanMeter-Adams et al. 2014).

Although measuring public perceptions of S&T has been a long-standing project for social science research, measurement itself has evolved as researchers have come to recognize the complexity of those perceptions. Earlier researchers tended to focus on deficits in science knowledge as a key criterion for evaluating public understanding of S&T, such as testing factual knowledge about antibiotics. More recently, however, researchers have turned to measuring public perceptions of science practice and scientific institutions. Those perceptions include a range of ideas and beliefs that may not always align neatly with knowledge of scientific facts (Allum et al. 2008; Miller 2004; NCSES 1985–2001). Patterns of public perception also evolve over time, suggesting that both cross-sectional and longitudinal data (meaning data captured at one point in time and data generated over time, respectively) are sometimes necessary to accurately track and evaluate public beliefs about S&T.

Some researchers view science as operating within larger social and cultural contexts—such as public discourse about values, the roles of institutions, and specific threats to health and quality of life—that must be acknowledged in thinking about how people perceive scientific research (Bauer 2009; Brossard and Lewenstein 2010; Lewenstein 1992). These changing considerations of science as an endeavor and of the roles of scientific institutions have coincided with long-term national measurement efforts that use stable indicators to track public perceptions of science over time. As a result, any effort to summarize public perceptions of science must address the tension between established measurement efforts that have not changed substantially over time and evolving conversations about what measures of public understanding of S&T are possible and appropriate.

This report presents indicators on three important dimensions of public perceptions and understanding: (1) Americans’ perceptions of S&T in general and of specific S&T issues, (2) how well Americans understand scientific logic and research processes, and (3) where Americans encounter science and get scientific information. Reporting reflects available data. When possible, the discussion includes both aggregate U.S. data on public perceptions and data broken down by demographic characteristics. The report also includes some information comparing Americans’ public perceptions of S&T with those of their counterparts in other countries with high levels of spending on S&T research and development (R&D).