by Imran Khan, Chief Executive of the BSA

It turns out that you can guess how most English regions voted in the EU referendum based on whether their young people know any scientists.

By tracking a set of students over a number of years, the longitudinal ASPIRES study report gave us a wealth of data and insight about the various ways in which young people relate to science – whether that’s via academic attainment, career aspirations, or interest.

The original report, published in 2013, revealed some troubling inequalities in how students from diverse backgrounds are able to access and participate in science. It showed that girls, ethnic minorities, and working class children – especially working class, white boys – face systemic challenges. The report also introduced the concept of ‘science capital’, which many people in our sector now accept as a much better measure than scientific attainment or knowledge.

The ASPIRES 2 project (Moote & Archer, upcoming) is picking up where ASPIRES left off, tracking young people all the way to age 18. Julie Moote was kind enough to share some of the study’s preliminary findings with the British Science Association (BSA); specifically, the results of the question

“Does anyone in your family work as a scientist or in a job using science?"

… which is one of the measures of science capital.

From a total sample of over 13,000 individuals across England, 27% of young people said ‘yes’. But Moote & Archer were kind enough to share with us the regional breakdown of where those 27% come from.

As luck would have it, it’s the same regional breakdown as the one the BBC produced for the EU referendum results.

Dr Suzi Gage kindly did a quick statistical analysis (Spearmann’s rank) of the two sets of data and found a strong correlation (rho = 0.667, p = 0.0499).

Obviously, correlation doesn’t imply causation, but this pattern isn’t entirely unexpected. We know that remain voters are more likely to be highly educated and less likely to be working class; we also know that science capital is closely linked to other forms of socio-economic and cultural capital.

But it does support the idea that it wasn’t enough for scientists to say that a Leave vote would be bad for science; arguably we haven’t done enough to change an entrenched problem where large parts of the country continue to have low science capital. We haven’t done enough to ensure the people in these regions have a voice in science – and we think doing so would make science stronger.

(Many thanks to Dr Julie Moote, Prof Louise Archer, and Dr Suzi Gage for helping us find and analyse this data. Prof Archer and Dr Gage are also trustees of the British Science Association.)

Read Imran's piece in The Guardian for more information: