Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

Survey research and the public understanding of science

By Martin W. Bauer


The term ‘public understanding of science’ (PUS) has a dual meaning. First, it covers a wide field of activities that aim at bringing science closer to the people and promoting PUS in the tradition of a public rhetoric of science (see Fuller 2001 for the idea; OECD 1997; Miller et al. 2002 for attempted inventories of such initiatives). Second, it refers to social research that investigates, using empirical methods, what the public’s understanding of science might be and how this might vary across time and context. This includes the conceptual analysis of the term understanding’. This chapter concentrates on the latter, and focuses on the discussions raised by research using large-scale nationally and internationally representative sample surveys that ask people lists of prepared standard questions from a questionnaire. I review the changing research agenda by typifying three ‘paradigms’ of PUS research according to the questions they raised, the interventions they supported and the criticisms they attracted. The chapter ends with a short outlook on the potential for future research and a brief afterthought on the ‘public deficit concept’ and survey-based investigations. This review expands on previous reviews of the field (Pion and Lipsey 1981; Wynne 1995; Miller 2004)

Topics: H Social Sciences (General), Q Science (General)
Publisher: Routledge
Year: 2008
OAI identifier:
Provided by: LSE Research Online

Suggested articles


  1. (2004). (This is a list of references, not intended to be a bibliography of PUS research)
  2. (1992). 5 A historical note: In the UK, the ESRC funded a research programme ‘public understanding of science’ from 1987-1990
  3. (1978). A doi
  4. (1995). A Ragnarsdottir and A Rudolfsdottir
  5. (2006). Addison-Wesley Handbook of Public Communication of S&T MB LSE
  6. (1988). An evaluation of ‘public attitudes toward science and technology’ doi
  7. (1995). Attitude strength and resistance processes, doi
  8. (2002). Attitudes toward science among the European public: a methodological analysis, doi
  9. (1998). Between citizen and consumer: multiplying the meanings of ‘public understanding of science’,
  10. (2003). Big science, little news: science coverage in the Italian daily press, 1946-1987, doi
  11. (2000). Civic scientific literacy and attitude to science and technology: a comparative analysis of the European Union,
  12. (1993). Common sense, science and social representations,
  13. (1996). Confluence of science and people’s knowledge at the Sangam,
  14. (1986). Croyance aux parasciences: dimensions sociales et culturelle, doi
  15. (1999). Cultural boundary work of science,
  16. (1994). European public perceptions of science, doi
  17. (2004). Evaluating public participation exercises: a research agenda, doi
  18. (2005). Everyday discourse and common sense. The theory of social representations, doi
  19. (2005). Experimental comparison of web and telephone survey, doi
  20. (1989). G A Evans and GP Thomas
  21. (2006). Government by elicitation: engaging stakeholders or listening to idiots,
  22. (1995). I A vanderLans
  23. (1996). In defence of representations, doi
  24. (1998). Information effects in Collective Preferences, doi
  25. (1998). La longue duree of popular science, 1830-present, In Deveze-Berthet D (ed) La promotion de la culture scientifique et technique: ses acteur et leurs logic, Actes du colloque des 12 et 13 decembre
  26. (1974). Le partage du savoir – Science, culture, vulgarisation,
  27. (1989). Les attitudes des Francais a l’egard de la science, doi
  28. (1993). Les francais et les techniques, REMUS 91, Act du colloques
  29. (2006). Long-term trends in the public representations of science across the iron curtain:
  30. (1990). Making science our own: Public images of science, 1910-1955, doi
  31. (1993). Measuring scientific interest: the effect of knowledge questions on interest ratings,
  32. (1992). Misunderstood misunderstandings: social identities and public uptake of science, doi
  33. (1992). Not knowing, needing do know, and wanting to know, in: Lewenstein B (ed) When Science meets the public,
  34. (1981). Public attitudes towards science and technology: what have the surveys told us? doi
  35. (2007). Public engagement of science in the private sector: a new form of PR?, In:
  36. (2000). Public knowledge of and attitudes to science -alternative measures, doi
  37. (2006). public understanding of science 16 Bensaude-Vincent B doi
  38. (2006). public understanding of science 18 Jasanoff S doi
  39. (2006). public understanding of science 19 doi
  40. (2006). public understanding of science 20 doi
  41. (2001). Public understanding of science at the cross-roads,
  42. (1992). Public understanding of science in Britain: the role of medicine in the popular representation of science,
  43. (1995). Public Understanding of Science, in: doi
  44. (2004). Public understanding of, and attitudes toward, scientific research: what we know and what we need to know, doi
  45. (1993). Public uptake of science: a case for institutional reflexivity,
  46. (2002). Public, science and cultural distance, doi
  47. (2002). Publicos da ciencia em Portugal,
  48. (2000). Quantity, quality and knowledge interests: avoiding confusions, in: doi
  49. (1941). Remarks on administrative and critical communication research,
  50. (1992). Science coverage in the British mass media: media output and source input, doi
  51. (1994). Science Culture – la culture scientifique dans le monde, Montreal, CIRST, UQAM Shukla R
  52. (1998). Science in Public. Communication, Culture and Credibility, doi
  53. (2004). Science in society: re-evaluating the deficit model of public attitudes. doi
  54. (2002). Science Indicators, chapter 7: Public Attitudes and Understanding,
  55. (2008). Science knowledge and attitudes across cultures: a meta-analysis, Public Understanding of Science, 17,1 (to be confirmed), doi
  56. (2001). Science, in: Encyclopdia of Rhetoric,
  57. (1983). Scientific literacy and democratic theory, Daedalus,
  58. (1983). Scientific Literacy: a conceptual and empirical review, Daedalus,
  59. (1991). Surveys on Public Understanding of Science - a statement of principles and an agenda for future research, National Science Foundation,
  60. (1999). The audit society: rituals of verification, doi
  61. (2004). The cognitive dimension of public perceptions of science: methodological issues, doi
  62. (1999). The establishment of science in America, Washington, doi
  63. (2001). The gender gap in science attitudes, parental and peer influences: changes between 1987/88 and 1997/98,
  64. (1993). The Golem. What everyone should know about science, doi
  65. (2000). The governance of science,
  66. (1998). The measurement of civic scientific liberacy,
  67. (1998). The medicalisation of science news: from the ‘rocket-scalpel’ to the ‘genemeteorite’ complex, doi
  68. (2002). The order of discourse in surveys of public understanding of science, doi
  69. (1993). The psychology of attitudes, Fort Worth, Harcourt Brace College Publishers. Handbook of Public doi
  70. (1976). The public appreciation of science in contemporary America: in: G Holton and W A Planpied (eds) Science and its public: the changing relationship, doi
  71. (1985). The Public Understanding of Science, doi
  72. (2002). The role of participatory technology assessment in the policy-making process, in:
  73. (1999). Towards a paradigm for research on social representations, doi
  74. (1992). Towards a scientific understanding of the public understanding of science and technology,
  75. (2000). Two cultures of public understanding of science, in: Dierkes M and C von Grote (eds) Between understanding and trust: the public, science and technology,
  76. (1989). Understanding of science in Britain and the USA, in:
  77. (2007). Vernacular science knowledge: its role in everyday life communication, doi
  78. (2006). was also extended to PUST to include ‘T’ for technology, PUSTE to include ‘E’ for engineering, or PUSH to include ‘H’ for the humanities, the latter indicating a more continental understanding of ‘science’
  79. (1996). What do we know about ‘don’t knows’ ? Or, contexts of ignorance, doi
  80. (2000). Why should the public ‘understand’ science? A historical perspective on aspects of public understanding of science, in:
  81. (1987). Why should we promote the public understanding of science?, in: Shortland M (ed) Scientific Literacy Papers, Rewley House,

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.