By SETH BORENSTEIN and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — Few Americans question that smoking causes cancer. But they express bigger doubts as concepts that scientists consider to be truths get further from our own experiences and the present time, an Associated Press-GfK poll found.

 Americans have more skepticism than confidence in global warming, the age of the Earth and evolution and have the most trouble believing a Big Bang created the universe 13.8 billion years ago.

 Rather than quizzing scientific knowledge, the survey asked people to rate their confidence in several statements about science and medicine.

On some, there’s broad acceptance. Just 4 percent doubt that smoking causes cancer, 6 percent question whether mental illness is a medical condition that affects the brain and 8 percent are skeptical there’s a genetic code inside our cells. More — 15 percent — have doubts about the safety and efficacy of childhood vaccines.

About 4 in 10 say they are not too confident or outright disbelieve that the earth is warming, mostly a result of man-made heat-trapping gases, that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old or that life on Earth evolved through a process of natural selection, though most were at least somewhat confident in each of those concepts. But a narrow majority — 51 percent — questions the Big Bang theory.

Those results depress and upset some of America’s top scientists, including several Nobel Prize winners, who vouched for the science in the statements tested, calling them settled scientific facts.

“Science ignorance is pervasive in our society, and these attitudes are reinforced when some of our leaders are openly antagonistic to established facts,” said 2013 Nobel Prize in medicine winner Randy Schekman of the University of California, Berkeley.

The poll highlights “the iron triangle of science, religion and politics,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.

And scientists know they’ve got the shakiest leg in the triangle.

To the public “most often values and beliefs trump science” when they conflict, said Alan Leshner, chief executive of the world’s largest scientific society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Political values were closely tied to views on science in the poll, with Democrats more apt than Republicans to express confidence in evolution, the Big Bang, the age of the Earth and climate change.

Religious values are similarly important.

Confidence in evolution, the Big Bang, the age of the Earth and climate change decline sharply as faith in a supreme being rises, according to the poll. Likewise, those who regularly attend religious services or are evangelical Christians express much greater doubts about scientific concepts they may see as contradictory to their faith.

“When you are putting up facts against faith, facts can’t argue against faith,” said 2012 Nobel Prize winning biochemistry professor Robert Lefkowitz of Duke University. “It makes sense now that science would have made no headway because faith is untestable.”

But evolution, the age of the Earth and the Big Bang are all compatible with God, except to Bible literalists, said Francisco Ayala, a former priest and professor of biology, philosophy and logic at the University of California, Irvine. And Darrel Falk, a biology professor at Point Loma Nazarene University and an evangelical Christian, agreed, adding: “The story of the cosmos and the Big Bang of creation is not inconsistent with the message of Genesis 1, and there is much profound biblical scholarship to demonstrate this.”

Beyond religious belief, views on science may be tied to what we see with our own eyes. The closer an issue is to our bodies and the less complicated, the easier it is for people to believe, said John Staudenmaier, a Jesuit priest and historian of technology at the University of Detroit Mercy.

Marsha Brooks, a 59-year-old nanny who lives in Washington, D.C., said she’s certain smoking causes cancer because she saw her mother, aunts and uncles, all smokers, die of cancer. But when it comes to the universe beginning with a Big Bang or the Earth being about 4.5 billion years old, she has doubts. She explained: “It could be a lack of knowledge. It seems so far” away.

Jorge Delarosa, a 39-year-old architect from Bridgewater, N.J., pointed to a warm 2012 without a winter and said, “I feel the change. There must be a reason.” But when it came to Earth’s beginnings 4.5 billion years ago, he has doubts simply because “I wasn’t there.”

Experience and faith aren’t the only things affecting people’s views on science. Duke University’s Lefkowitz sees “the force of concerted campaigns to discredit scientific fact” as a more striking factor, citing significant interest groups — political, business and religious — campaigning against scientific truths on vaccines, climate change and evolution.

Yale’s Leiserowitz agreed but noted sometimes science wins out even against well-financed and loud opposition, as with smoking.

Widespread belief that smoking causes cancer “has come about because of very public, very focused public health campaigns,” AAAS’s Leshner said. A former acting director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Leshner said he was encouraged by the public’s acceptance that mental illness is a brain disease, something few believed 25 years ago, before just such a campaign.

That gives Leiserowitz hope for a greater public acceptance of climate change, but he fears it may be too late to do anything about it.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted March 20-24, 2014, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,012 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

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On Twitter, follow AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein at http://twitter.com/borenbears and AP Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta at http://www.twitter.com/JennAgiesta .

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

AP-GfK Poll: Americans not confident in US government’s ability to minimize range of threats

By JILL COLVIN and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans lack confidence in the government’s ability to protect their personal safety and economic security, a sign that their widespread unease about the state of the nation extends far beyond politics, according to the latest Associated Press-GfK poll.

With Election Day about a month away, more than half those in the survey said Washington can do little to effectively lessen threats such as climate change, mass shootings, racial tensions, economic uncertainty and an unstable job market.

“I think what we’ve got going on here in America is the perfect storm of not good things,” said Joe Teasdale, 59, who lives in southwest Wisconsin and works as an assistant engineer at a casino.

For many of those questioned in the poll, conducted before doctors in Texas diagnosed a Liberian man with the Ebola virus, the concern starts with the economy.

The poll found that 9 in 10 of those most likely to vote in the Nov. 4 election call the economy an extremely or very important issue. Teasdale is among those who say the slow recovery from the recession is a top concern.

Despite improvements nationally, business is far from booming in his state, Teasdale said. He’s been supplementing his stagnant salary by renovating and renting out duplexes and has little faith the situation will improve soon. He wants government to get out of the way of business.

“If you’re putting so much restriction on them where it isn’t practical for them to expand or grow, why should they?” Teasdale asked.

Those surveyed also pointed to events such as the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, that followed the fatal police shooting an unarmed black 18-year-old and the beheading of a woman in an Oklahoma food processing plant, apparently at the hand of a suspended co-worker.

“This is the first time I’ve felt insecure in my own country,” said Jan Thomas, 75, of Stevensville, Montana. “Especially after the beheading in Oklahoma. That’s scary.”

The poll found that Democrats tend to express more faith in the government’s ability to protect them than do Republicans. Yet even among Democrats, just 27 percent are confident the government can keep them safe from terrorist attacks. Fewer than 1 in 5 say so on each of the other issues, including climate change.

“There’s too many people who still don’t believe that it’s happening,” bemoaned Felicia Duncan, 53, who lives in Sharonville, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati, and works as an office manager at a mechanical contracting company.

Urbanites tend to be more confident the government will keep them safe from terrorist threats than do people living in suburbs and rural areas. Younger Americans are more confident than older people that the government can minimize the threat of mass shootings. When it comes to quelling racial tensions, Hispanics are more confident than are blacks and whites.

Thirteen years after the Sept. 11 attacks, and as the Obama administration conducts airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, only 1 in 5 in the poll say they are extremely or very confident the government can keep them safe from another terrorist attack. Four in 10 express moderate confidence.

While there has not been a large-scale terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, roughly one-third of Americans say they are not too confident or not confident at all in the government’s ability to prevent another.

Bill Denison, 85, who lives in Bradenton, Florida, is among the minority who thinks the government is doing a good job keeping citizens safe, at least when it comes to preventing domestic attacks.

“Overall I think that the best job that we’ve done in this country is with anti-terrorism,” he said. “We’re doing a magnificent job and so far it’s been pretty successful.”

Still, he expressed disbelief at the recent security breaches involving Secret Service agents, including an incident in which a man scaled the White House fence and made his way deep into the executive mansion.

“The fact that a guy can run into the White House is pretty disturbing,” he said. “But we’re only human. And humans are going to make mistakes.”

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted September 25-29, 2014, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,845 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points for all respondents.

Respondents were selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were given free access.

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Associated Press writer Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com


AP-GfK Poll: Half think US at high risk of terror attack, yet fewer are closely following airstrikes

By DEB RIECHMANN and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Half of Americans think there’s a high risk of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, yet only a third are closely following news of U.S. airstrikes against Islamic extremists in the Middle East.

Most people do think the airstrikes are a good idea. Two-thirds of those questioned for an Associated Press-GfK poll say they favor the offensive by the U.S. and allies. And, despite, more than a decade of costly war, about one-third favor going beyond that and putting American military boots on the ground in Iraq or Syria.

President Barack Obama says he has no plans to send ground troops to either country. A little more than a third say they are opposed to the idea, and about one in four say they neither favor nor oppose it.

That’s thousands of miles away. What about concern at home?

According to the poll, most think there’s a high risk of a terrorist attack inside the United States, 53 percent, though just 20 percent call it an “extremely high risk.” An additional 32 percent say the nation is at moderate risk of a terrorist attack and 12 percent say it faces a low risk of terror attacks.

The poll has not asked that specific question in the past. However, the finding tracks with Pew Research Center data from July indicating that concern had ebbed somewhat since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

This summer, the Pew survey said 59 percent of Americans were “very” or “somewhat worried” that there would soon be another terrorist attack in the United States. That’s lower than the 73 percent that Pew found were concerned, following 9/11, that another attack was imminent and about the same as the 58 percent who were worried about another attack after the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

There hasn’t been a massive terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11.

Those in the AP-GfK survey are split on whether they approve of the way Obama is handling the threat from terrorism and specifically the threat posed by the Islamic State group. About half approve and about half disapprove of Obama’s actions to confront the threat. Still, those figures are better than Obama’s approval ratings for handling top domestic issues. Just 40 percent approve of his handling of the economy, 41 percent approve of his work on health care and 34 percent approve of the way he’s handling immigration.

Douglas Dowden, 49, a native of San Diego who now lives in central California, said he thinks the threat from the Islamic State group is overblown. He doesn’t support Obama’s decision to launch airstrikes.

“How many terror threat attacks happen in countries like say Spain, Italy, the U.S.? It’s not that often. I have more fear of what some whack job locally is going to do — that’s more of a concern to me than some potential threat from some extremist group,” Dowden said.

Dowden is among the 37 percent surveyed who said they were following news about the airstrikes “somewhat closely.” About 32 percent of those surveyed are paying close attention to the military action, and 30 percent say they’re barely monitoring the U.S. military action.

“I’m really not following it. There is so much terrible news and I’d rather follow the domestic news than the foreign news — but I still am interested in what’s going on,” said Betty Masket, a 91-year-old retired government health science administrator from Chevy Chase, Maryland. “I really feel sorry for Obama. I think he’s doing the best he can.”

Keith Fehser, 55, a commodities trader from suburban Chicago, says Americans need to see terrorism as an extremely important issue, yet they don’t.

“I just think it’s only going to get worse,” Fehser said. “Even though the government tries its best to keep on top of it, it’s just lunacy out there with what can be done by just small groups of people.”

He said most people he talks with don’t care much about the U.S. airstrikes on Iraq and Syria. “It’s a long way away. As long as we’re not letting our own people get killed, I don’t think they care that much,” he said, adding that he would be “very disgusted” if American combat troops were sent back to the region.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Sept. 25-29, 2014, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,845 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points for all respondents. Respondents were selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were given free access.

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com