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Public Attitudes to Science 2014: The Results

Public Attitudes to Science 2014: The Results

By Karen Folkes, Chair of the 'Public Attitudes to Science' Steering Group and Deputy Head of Science and Society, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

Nearly a year ago, I wrote on this blog to set out what we were doing to update our evidence on UK public attitudes to science. As you can see from all the other posts, there has been a lot of activity since. And now we’re able to publish what we’ve found.

PAS Graphic 1

The results of PAS2014 are now available There are some very positive messages: 

  • The UK public are as interested and enthusiastic about science as they have ever been in the last 25 years
  • Science is increasingly seen as important to the economy and the public widely support continued government funding for science. Three-quarters (76%) think scientific research makes a direct contribution to economic growth in the UK
  • The public think it is important for them to know about science and want to hear more from scientists, government and regulators
  • Nine-in-ten (91%) agree that young people’s interest in science is essential for our future prosperity
  • The public continue to support government funding of science. Eight-in-ten (79%) agree that, even if it brings no immediate benefits, scientific research which advances knowledge should be funded by the Government. Two-thirds (65%) also disagree that this funding should be cut because the money can be better spent elsewhere.
  • 81% of people agree that “science will make people’s lives easier” and over half (55%) think that the benefits of science outweigh any harmful effects.
  • Half (51%) think the science they learnt at school has been useful in their everyday lives, while a very encouraging three-quarters (76%) think this of the maths they learnt at school.

It’s also clearer from this survey that science is increasingly seen as part of UK culture, we found that people of all ages are treating science activities as part of a wider range of cultural activities.

There are also some messages we’ve heard before:

  • People want the public to be involved but not everyone wants to get involved themselves, and they still value the role of experts
  • Individual scientists are highly trusted, increasingly so, but this does not necessarily mean their work, or their institutions or funders are trusted – trust depends on the institution scientists work for and perceptions of their funders
  • Traditional media remains the most common source of information, but young people are using digital more

And some that we need to explore further:

  • There are established contentious issues (such as GM), and emerging issues that may become more contentious as media coverage increases (such as shale gas)
  • Scientists and engineers are highly respected but people still do not know much about how scientists work
  • There also appears to be low trust in science journalism

For the first time, we’ve used social listening and modular parts of the survey looking at attitudes to some of the Eight Great Technologies, such as big data, agricultural technologies, robot and emerging energy technologies. View the full report to find out more about these and the rest of the results.

Whatever your interest in science is, there is likely to be something of relevance in the PAS and I welcome your views on how you plan to use its findings.

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Comments...

David Colquhoun's picture

You fail to mention that only 45% of people regard scientists as honest, and 38% think they are ethical. It seems to me to be neither honest nor ethical to ignore these ghastly numbers. They should be regarded as a call to action.

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