The share of Americans who see science as the nation’s greatest achievement is down sharply, even as the public continues to hold scientists in high regard.
A new Pew Research Center poll indicates that 27 percent of Americans say the nation’s greatest achievements are in science, medicine and technology, more than any category other than don’t know.
But that’s down from 47 percent in a similar study a decade ago, the center reported Thursday.
The decline comes even as technology reaches out to connect people worldwide via the Internet.
But the era of “Big Science,” like the moon landings, has receded into history, while at the same time one-time wonders such as organ transplants seem increasingly routine and the battle against cancer drags on.
Probably reflecting last fall’s historic election of Barack Obama as president, the poll found that people rating equal rights as the nation’s top achievement jumped to 17 percent, compared with just 5 percent 10 years earlier.
Most Americans — 64 percent — see this country’s science as “above average,” but with advances by other countries getting increasing attention, just 17 percent say it’s the best in the world.
Indeed, the European Union currently published more scientific papers than the United States.
There is the danger, over time, that the United States could lose its pre-eminence in science and efforts to interest more young people in research are under way, said Alan I. Leshner, head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Overall, the new study found that science remains well thought of by Americans, with 84 percent of respondents saying it has a mostly positive effect on society. Only 6 percent rated science as largely negative for society.