Pew Internet Project and the Exploratorium Find That the Internet is a Pervasive Research Tool for Science News and Information
As a primary source for science information, the internet is second only to television among the general population. For Americans with high-speed internet connections at home, the internet is as popular as TV for news and information about science. And for young adults with high-speed connections at home, the internet is the most popular source for science news and information by a 44% to 32% margin over television.
The national survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in collaboration with the Exploratorium (www.exploratorium.edu) benchmarks how the internet fits into people's habits for gathering news and information about science. Findings include:
- Nearly 9 in 10 (87%) online users have used the internet to look up the meaning of a scientific concept, answer a specific science question, learn more about a scientific breakthrough, help complete a school assignment, check the accuracy of a scientific fact, downloaded scientific data, or compare different or opposing scientific theories.
- Most Americans say they would turn to the internet if they needed more information on specific scientific topics. Two-thirds of respondents asked about stem cell research said they would first turn to the internet and 59% asked about climate change said they would first go to the internet. Most of those searches would begin with search engines.
- Nearly three quarters (71%) of internet users say they turn to the internet for science news and information because it is convenient.
- Two-thirds (65%) say they have encountered news and information about science when they have gone online for a different reason in mind.
“People's use of the internet for science information has a lot to do with the internet's convenience as a research tool, but it also connected to people's growing dependence on the internet for information of all types,” said John B. Horrigan, Associate Director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project and the study's principal author. “Many think of the internet as a gigantic encyclopedia on all subjects and this certainly applies to scientific information.”
“As one of the first museums to bring science to the public through the World Wide Web, the Exploratorium was interested in learning how people use the internet to engage with science online,” said Dr. Robert J. Semper, Executive Associate Director of the Exploratorium.
Users of the internet for science information also report better attitudes about the role science plays in society and higher assessments of how well they understand science. Specifically:
- 78% of those who have gotten science information online describe themselves as “very” or “somewhat” informed about new scientific discoveries; 58% of remaining internet users says this.
- 48% strongly agree that to be a strong society, the United States needs to be competitive in science; 33% of remaining online users strongly agree with this.
- 43% strongly agree that scientific research is essential to improving the quality of human lives; 27% of remaining online users say this.
The report also showed that many Americans visit science museums and websites whose main focus is on science. Three in five Americans (59%) have been to some sort of science museum in the past year, such as a zoo or aquarium, natural history museum, science or technology museum, or planetarium. Half (49%) of internet users have gone to a website whose content is devoted to science, such as the Smithsonian's website or NationalGeographic.com. The report also shows a relationship between the two behaviors: those who have gone to a science museum are more likely to visit science websites, and vice versa.
“The internet's ‘many-to-many' character helps drive the relationship between visiting science museum and going to science websites,” Horrigan said. “This gives those interested science education a common stake in online science content, since visitors to a science museum can click on any science website to find out more about something they saw at the museum.”
The report, made possible by the National Science Foundation, is based on a survey of 2,000 Americans conducted in January 2006. It has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
The Pew Internet Project is a non-profit, non-partisan initiative of the Pew Research Center that produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on children, families, communities, the work place, schools, health care, and civic/political life. Support for the non-profit Pew Internet Project is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
The Exploratorium: Housed within the walls of San Francisco's landmark Palace of Fine Arts, the Exploratorium is a museum of science, art, and human perception filled with hundreds of interactive, hands-on exhibits. In addition to serving more than half a million people who visit the museum each year, the Exploratorium is also a leader in the movement to promote museums as informal education centers, providing professional development for science teachers and teacher-educators, and operating as a research and development center for the science museum field at large. The Exploratorium's award-winning Web site, online since 1993, currently receives more than 20 million unique visits a year.