Chris Mooney, in his blog related to this latest indicator, point to an important aspect of this study:
For instance, just 13 percent of the public now claims to follow science and technology news “very closely,” and this number has been on a downward trend for the past decade, ending with the current low. So while Americans may profess great admiration for science in the abstract, they hardly feel compelled to pay it much attention.
An overwhelming number of the public support science, but don't quite follow it. This shouldn't be surprising, and it certainly isn't to me. I wrote way back when about the need for scientists to be "Perky, Shallow, and Superficial" when explaining science to the public. And in it, I said this:
Now, what this means is that, while the public in general supports science, and scientific endeavors, they are doing it NOT because they are aware of what science is and what it does, but rather based on the PERCEIVED importance of science and technology. This is extremely important to keep in mind, because this implies that the support for science is built on an extremely shaky foundation. Such foundation can be easily eroded either via a mishap, or simply good "Public Relations" done by people against science.
As scientists, we cannot forget this, because it explains the fickleness in the support that we get. That overwhelming support that is there one day can easily go away the next day, and not because of some scientific evidence, but possibly because someone else has better bells and whistles.