Much attention is paid to public attitudes to science. But how much do we think about scientists’ attitudes towards the public? For members of a profession that thrives on evidence, scientists — and those who communicate, advocate and lobby for science — too frequently rely on incorrect assumptions.
Scientists often believe that the public thinks poorly of them, and perhaps chemists more than most. We assume that people think in stereotypes: men in white coats, explosions and harmful chemicals. We see scare-mongering headlines and misleading advertising about ‘artificial’ versus ‘natural’ products. We assume that these messages carry influence, and this shapes everything from the way we hold conversations at parties to more formal efforts in public outreach and education. We are defensive, because we assume that chemistry is under attack.
In fact, public attitudes to chemists and chemistry are much more positive than my colleagues and I would have dared to hope. Our views of public opinion are too negative. I know this because the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has asked members of the public what they think.