Ollie Christophers has worked in science communications since graduating from the Cardiff University School of Journalism and Business School. He has since worked for organisations such as the Met Office, Department of Health and British Science Association and these are his views about the impact of the Public Attitudes to Science Survey.
Hold the front page! One of the top findings of the 2011 Public Attitudes to Science survey was that over 80% of the UK public think they should take an interest in science! With £4.6bn of taxpayer’s money being ploughed into it each year, not to mention the capital expenditure on top, you’d hope 80% would take at least an interest. Now in 2013, we’re about to have another round of questioning on public attitudes to science, but with bigger and deeper cuts to public expenditure looming, the PAS survey needs to provide more valuable insights than ‘the public are interested in science and half want to hear more’.
One of the primary aims of doing this poll is to gauge ‘the perceived impact of science on society, in terms of its impact on entertainment and culture, and on the economy’. What is it actually asking about the desperate need for investment in science for the good of the economy?
In 2011, 79% of respondents agreed that the UK needs to develop its science and technology sector in order to enhance its international competitiveness; that 75% of respondents agreed that scientific research makes a direct contribution to economic growth in the UK and that 63% disagree that science funding should be cut so that the money can be better spent elsewhere. It also touches briefly upon the role of science for future prosperity and careers for the next generation.
Government ministers George Osborne, Vince Cable and David Willetts are in agreement over the key role of science, technology and innovation in rebalancing the economy. The Chancellor even called science a ‘personal priority for me’ last month, so if this is the case, why has the science budget just been ring fenced (a cut in real terms) and not increased? Now, if only someone working in the science sector had an upcoming poll of UK residents to find out if they would support an increase in funding for UK Science...
There are currently 188 questions in the PAS survey - how many of these questions were measuring the perceived impact of science on the economy? Well I counted five. So a whopping 2.7% of this leviathan survey, which asks other crucial questions like ‘If you went to a theme park in the last 12 months, who did you go with’ (of course this is important, I hear you say), is focussed on asking you what you think about one of the keynote strategies to save us all from ‘impending financial doom’.
Perhaps the follow up qualitative survey could be used to ask some further questions that actually add value to a case for more funding around the themes of;
- Which industries should the UK focus on as part of a national strategy for growth?
- Would you support an increase in the science budget as a strategy to rebalance the economy?
- Do you believe that other countries are harvesting our brightest scientists because they fund more research?
Back in 2000 when the first poll was conducted, we were all still singing ‘Things can only get better’, and for a short while they did, but even Brian Cox has moved on from that and got serious about science and so should we.