National Science Foundation Surveys of Public Attitudes Toward and Understanding of Science and Technology, 1979-2001: [United States] (ICPSR 4029)

Published: Jan 18, 2006

Principal Investigator(s):
Jon D. Miller, Northwestern University Medical School. Center for Biomedical Communications; Linda Kimmel, Northwestern University Medical School. Center for Biomedical Communications; ORC Macro

Version V1

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Surveys of Public Attitudes monitored the general public's attitudes toward and interest in science and technology. In addition, the survey assessed levels of literacy and understanding of scientific and environmental concepts and constructs, how scientific knowledge and information were acquired, attentiveness to public policy issues, and computer access and usage. Since 1979, the survey was administered at regular intervals (occurring every two or three years), producing 11 cross-sectional surveys through 2001. Data for Part 1 (Survey of Public Attitudes Multiple Wave Data) were comprised of the survey questionnaire items asked most often throughout the 22-year survey series and account for approximately 70 percent of the original questions asked. Data for Part 2, General Social Survey Subsample Data, combine the 1983-1999 Survey of Public Attitudes data with a subsample from the 2002 General Social Survey (GSS) (GENERAL SOCIAL SURVEYS, 1972-2002: [CUMULATIVE FILE] [ICPSR 3728]) and focus solely on levels of education and computer access and usage. Variables for Part 1 include the respondents' interest in new scientific or medical discoveries and inventions, space exploration, military and defense policies, whether they voted in a recent election, if they had ever contacted an elected or public official about topics regarding science, energy, defense, civil rights, foreign policy, or general economics, and how they felt about government spending on scientific research. Respondents were asked how they received information concerning science or news (e.g., via newspapers, magazines, or television), what types of television programming they watched, and what kind of magazines they read. Respondents were asked a series of questions to assess their understanding of scientific concepts like DNA, probability, and experimental methods. Respondents were also asked if they agreed with statements concerning science and technology and how they affect everyday living. Respondents were further asked a series of true and false questions regarding science-based statements (e.g., the center of the Earth is hot, all radioactivity is manmade, electrons are smaller than atoms, the Earth moves around the sun, humans and dinosaurs co-existed, and human beings developed from earlier species of animals). Variables for Part 2 include highest level of math attained in high school, whether the respondent had a postsecondary degree, field of highest degree, number of science-based college courses taken, major in college, household ownership of a computer, access to the World Wide Web, number of hours spent on a computer at home or at work, and topics searched for via the Internet. Demographic variables for Parts 1 and 2 include gender, race, age, marital status, number of people in household, level of education, and occupation.

Miller, Jon D., Kimmel, Linda, and ORC Macro. National Science Foundation Surveys of Public Attitudes Toward and Understanding of Science and Technology, 1979-2001:  [United States]. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2006-01-18.

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National Science Foundation (03-212-SRS-0086139, and ASA/SRS-NSF 0209274)

1979 -- 2001

Part 1 contains a weight variable (WT5) that corrects for nonresponse and oversamples males and Blacks.

Data were collected through a disproportionate stratified sampling frame utilizing a list-assisted random-digital dial (RDD) design within strata. Respondents within households were selected using the most recent birthday selection method.

All households with a working telephone in the contiguous United States containing at least one noninstitutionalized English or Spanish speaker aged 18 years or over.


Respondents were interviewed in person for the 1979 wave and via telephone for subsequent waves. Later waves also utilized Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI).

survey data



2006-01-18 File CB4029.ALL.PDF was removed from any previous datasets and flagged as a study-level file, so that it will accompany all downloads.

2005-01-27 ICPSR data undergo a confidentiality review and are altered when necessary to limit the risk of disclosure. ICPSR also routinely creates ready-to-go data files along with setups in the major statistical software formats as well as standard codebooks to accompany the data. In addition to these procedures, ICPSR performed the following processing steps for this data collection:

  • Created online analysis version with question text.


  • Data in this collection are available only to users at ICPSR member institutions.

  • The citation of this study may have changed due to the new version control system that has been implemented.
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