Forty million Americans use the internet as their primary source of news and information about science and 87% of online users have at one time used the internet to carry out research on a scientific topic or concept. As a primary source for science information, the internet is second only to television among the general population. For Americans with high-speed internet connections at home, the internet is as popular as TV for news and information about science. And for young adults with high-speed connections at home, the internet is the most popular source for science news and information by a 44% to 32% margin over television.
The national survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in collaboration with the Exploratorium benchmarks how the internet fits into people's habits for gathering news and information about science. Findings include:
Nearly 9 in 10 (87%) online users have used the internet to look up the meaning of a scientific concept, answer a specific science question, learn more about a scientific breakthrough, complete a school assignment, check the accuracy of a scientific fact, download scientific data, or compare different or opposing scientific theories.
Most Americans say they would turn to the internet if they needed more information on specific scientific topics. Two-thirds of respondents asked about stem cell research said they would first turn to the internet and 59% asked about climate change said they would first go to the internet. Most of those searches would begin with search engines.
Nearly three quarters (71%) of internet users say they turn to the internet for science news and information because it is convenient.
Two-thirds (65%) say they have encountered news and information about science when they have gone online with a different reason in mind.
Users of the internet for science information also report better attitudes about the role science plays in society and higher assessments of how well they understand science. Specifically: 78% of those who have gotten science information online describe themselves as "very" or "somewhat" informed about new scientific discoveries; 58% of remaining internet users says this. 48% strongly agree that to be a strong society, the United States needs to be competitive in science; 33% of remaining online users strongly agree with this. 43% strongly agree that scientific research is essential to improving the quality of human lives; 27% of other online users also say this. The report also showed that many Americans visit science museums and websites whose main focus is on science. Three in five Americans (59%) have been to some sort of science museum in the past year, such as a zoo or aquarium, natural history museum, science or technology museum, or planetarium. Half (49%) of internet users have gone to a website whose content is devoted to science, such as the Smithsonian's website or NationalGeographic.com. The report also shows a relationship between the two behaviors: those who have gone to a science museum are more likely to visit science websites, and vice versa.
The Pew Internet Project/Exploratorium report, made possible by the National Science Foundation, is based on a survey of 2,000 Americans conducted in January 2006. It has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.