Study Suggests General Public Doesn’t Appreciate Science

March 19, 2018
Almost half of global respondents are skeptical or indifferent to science – however, optimism and expectations for the future of science overall remain high.

Science needs a champion. This is the conclusion 3M comes to following analysis from its first annual, 14-country State of Science Index (SOSI), a global study exposing the general population’s attitudes towards science. The study explores the image of science around the world. Respondents were asked about their knowledge, understanding and appreciation of science, as well as questions about the image and future of science.

At first glance, results from the study suggest sentiment towards science is overwhelmingly positive: half of respondents believe flying cars will become a reality within their lifetime and 87% characterize science as fascinating, not boring. However, upon further inspection, the survey reveals many people are unaware of the impact science has on their lives: almost 40% believe everyday life would not be much different if science did not exist. A pattern of skepticism around science also prevails. The study found that almost one-third of the global population is skeptical of science, and 20% distrust scientists.

Other findings include:

  • For many, science is seen as being accessible only to “geniuses.” The study found more than one-third of people are intimidated by science, with 36% agreeing only geniuses can have a career in science.
  • More work needs to be done to address the gender gap in science. Women are less engaged with and interested in science than men. They are more likely than men to say they know nothing about science (21% vs. 15%) and are significantly less likely to believe a career in engineering would be satisfying (9% vs. 25%). Women, however, are more interested than men in medicine (20% vs. 14%) and life science (15% vs. 10%).
  • Science is appreciated more on the macro, societal level, than the micro, everyday level. Significantly more people believe science is very important to society in general (63%) than it is to everyday life (46%).
  • People have great expectations for science. About three in four believe science can solve different global challenges inspired by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Globally, people are optimistic that science can solve challenges related to access to affordable renewable energy (75%) and energy supply (74%). People are also turning to science to solve challenges related to disease treatment (75%), clean water and sanitation (73%) and Internet access (73%). But confidence in science to solve the following global challenges is much lower: climate change (46%), hunger (45%), aging population (41%) and unemployment (33%).
  • People are largely unconscious of science and its impact on their lives. The majority (66%) think about the impact science has on their everyday lives “a little to never.”
  • Nearly half the population wishes they had pursued a career in science. While a small majority of people (54%) have no regrets about pursuing a non-science career, nearly half wish they had chosen a career in science (46%).
  • Science skeptics and science supporters are unified with respect to their kids and the next generation. When it comes to the next generation, science skeptics and non-skeptics are surprisingly aligned: 82% would encourage kids to pursue a science career and 92% of parents want their kids to know more about science; at the same time, 33% think students need a better understanding of how science improves the world to inspire them to pursue a career in it.
  • Despite skepticism and a general misunderstanding about science, excitement for the future of scientific advancements is high. When asked about what they believe science will achieve in their lifetime, the top responses included robots in every workplace (64%), robots in every home (55%) and flying cars (51%). Additionally, there were expectations for undersea living (41%) and inhabiting Mars (35%), all within our lifetime.
  • Overall, the study found that emerging countries are more optimistic about future scientific advancements than respondents from developed countries. Emerging countries are much more likely to think flying cars (58% emerging vs. 43% developed) and controlling the weather (43% vs. 22%) would be possible in their lifetime.

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