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21/08/2014

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EU citizens call for public dialogue

EU citizens call for public dialogue

By Alan Mercer is Sciencewise Programme Director. This post is part of a series of posts for the Public Attitudes to Science 2014 study.

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This month saw the publication of a Special Eurobarometer report on Responsible research and innovation, science and technology.  For anyone engaged in developments in science and technology, the survey into the views of the public from across the 27 EU states makes for very interesting reading.

As the Programme Director for the Sciencewise programme, I was drawn to the finding that 64% – almost two-thirds – of those surveyed in the UK indicated that public dialogue is required on decisions about science and technology. This places the UK fifth in the EU for requiring this dialogue, and higher than the EU27 average of 55%.

Whilst one can always be sceptical of what the survey said, this is a strong mandate from the UK public that not only are they interested, but that they want to see citizens involved in the decisions on science and technology that impact on them. 

The science communication community will also be pleased to see that according to this survey, UK citizens feel among the most informed regarding developments in science and technology with 56% feeling informed.  In this case, the UK is fourth across the EU states, and again is significantly higher than the EU27 average of 40% feeling informed.

A further significant finding is that the report shows a strong correlation between the percentage that consider that dialogue is required with the percentage feeling informed.

The EU survey also provides interesting findings on who citizens consider as best placed to explain the impact of science and technology, with 66% of respondents citing scientists in university or government laboratories as best qualified.  Interestingly compared to the previous survey in 2010, citizens were less likely to mention medical doctors or government representatives.

A possibly more worrying report in the survey is on where citizens get information on science and technology.  Across the EU states, almost two-thirds of respondents (65%) get their information from television, but only 20% of respondents mention television journalists as qualified to explain science and technology.

For the Sciencewise programme, this EU survey reveals some enlightening insights into citizen thinking on science and technology.  It fits well with the deeper understanding that the Programme has on specific issues from our support of public dialogue projects and our research into social intelligence.

The survey also shows that views and sources of information are changing, and as someone working in science and technology, it highlights to me the importance of up-to-date information on what the public think.  What is needed now is the more detailed information on the UK and I am looking forward to the outcome of Public Attitudes to Science 2014 next year to give us this UK-specific insight.

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