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

Pew also finds political divide over perceptions of coverage
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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.