Though endangered on campuses, academic freedom couldn’t be more all-American. That includes the freedom of teachers, students, and scientists to speak out, debate, and weigh diverse, even critical scientific ideas about evolution. While demonized by the media, independence of thought on the ultimate question of biological origins finds support across the broadest spectrum of age, sex, political and religious perspectives.
Indeed, Americans celebrate Independence Day this weekend, and right on time, a new nationwide survey reveals that fully 93 percent of American adults agree that “teachers and students should have the academic freedom to objectively discuss both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of the theory of evolution.”
What’s more, 88 percent agree that “scientists who raise scientific criticisms of evolution should have the freedom to make their arguments without being subjected to censorship or discrimination.”
Americans overwhelmingly agree that dissenting views in science are healthy. Highlights of the survey include:
- 84 percent believe that “attempts to censor or punish scientists for holding dissenting views on issues such as evolution or climate change are not appropriate in a free society.”
- 94 percent believe “it is important for policymakers and the public to hear from scientists with differing views.”
- 87 percent think that “people can disagree about what science says on a particular topic without being ‘anti-science.'”
- 86 percent think that “disagreeing with the current majority view in science can be an important step in the development of new insights and discoveries in science.”
“Freedom of inquiry is a cornerstone of the scientific enterprise, but it’s under increasing attack by some who claim to speak for science,” said molecular biologist Douglas Axe. “So it’s very good news that a large majority of Americans still believe in open and free discussion.”
A Caltech-trained scientist, Dr. Axe is director of Biologic Institute and a former researcher at Cambridge University. He is author of the soon-to-be released book Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition that Life is Designed (HarperOne; out on July 12). Axe’s book challenges the idea that only professional scientists should be allowed to evaluate ideas about the origin and development of life. “The question of our origin is far too important to be left to professional scientists,” he commented.
“In the public arena, we hear a growing chorus arguing for the government to punish or criminalize dissenting scientific views,” said political scientist Dr. John G. West, who directed the survey. “But for the public, free speech in science is not a partisan issue. It’s supported by the vast majority of people across party lines, gender, religion, and age.”
For example, West notes:
- 95 percent of Republicans believe that teachers and students should have the freedom to discuss the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolution — but so do 93 percent of Democrats and 94 percent of Independents; so do 96 percent of theists, 92 percent of agnostics, and 86 percent of atheists.
- 87 percent of Republicans oppose attempts to punish or censor scientists who hold dissenting views on issues like evolution and climate change — but so do 84 percent of Independents and 82 percent of Democrats, as well as 86 percent of theists, 83 percent of agnostics, 76 percent of atheists, 82 percent of women, and 86 percent of men.
- 95 percent of Republicans think it’s important for policymakers and the public to hear from scientists with differing views — but so do 94 percent of Democrats and 93 percent of Independents, 95 percent of theists, 92 percent of agnostics, 90 percent of atheists, 95 percent of women, and 93 percent of men.
The data for this national survey were collected over the period January 5-9, 2016 using SurveyMonkey Audience, a nationally representative panel of more than 6 million people recruited from the more than 30 million people who take SurveyMonkey surveys each month. Survey respondents were randomly sampled from members of SurveyMonkey Audience in the United States who are 18 years of age or older, and there were 2,075 respondents for the overall survey.
The SurveyMonkey platform has been utilized for public opinion surveys by NBC News, the Los Angeles Times, and other media organizations.