How does the world perceive science? Findings from 2019 State of Science Index

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How does the world perceive science? Findings from 2019 State of Science Index

Science is an indivisible part of our life. To put it in the most basic words, for scientists the main intent behind conducting research is to know the world we live in better and to make human lives better. But what does the general public think about science? Is their perception of the impact of science on their lives the same as that of the research community?

To gain a deeper insight into these questions, 3M – a global science and innovation company – conducted a survey in 14 developed and emerging countries: Canada, Germany, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, UK, US, India, China, Mexico, Poland, Brazil, and South Africa.

The findings of the survey that included 14,025 participants were published in the report State of Science Index: 2019 Global Findings. The extensive report shares in detail the views that people hold about various aspects of science and what they expect from science. The key findings revolve around three aspects: the image of science, the impact of science, and the expectations from science. This post presents some of the main highlights of the survey findings aligned to these three themes.

The image of science: People around the world are curious about science

Science is a subject of curiosity for people globally. Let us take a quick look at what they think about science.

  • 88% of the survey respondents believe that a basic understanding of science is crucial, and about 57% feel unconfident about their knowledge of science.
  • The interest in science for most participants (59%) stems from their belief that “Scientific advancements are going to benefit future generations.”
  • When queried about the most important qualities a scientist should possess, 45% put “curiosity” before “intelligence.”
  • 58% stated they would have chosen a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) if they had the option of going back in time.
  • While 72% indicated that they are curious about science, 10% said that science intimidates them.

The impact of science: Scientists are viewed as reliable, but unrelatable

A commonly held opinion about scientists is that they are trustworthy and credible. Here are some of the survey responses about how scientists are perceived:

  • 80% find people belonging to the scientific community a more credible source of scientific information as compared to documentaries (77%) and friends and family (61%).
  • Regarding the image of scientists, 58% viewed scientists are elitists while 48% believed scientists are not as ethical as they should be.
  • 88% consider science communication important and feel that scientific results should be shared in a language that is easy to understand, and 85% think scientists should share findings more often.
  • Innovations related to healthcare such as vaccines for chronic illnesses generated excitement among 87% whereas those related to genetic modifications such as human cloning generated fear among 77%.

Expectations from science: Despite the optimism about science, many maintain a skeptical view

The optimism about science is high among public. However, skepticism continues to exist as well.

  • 87% believe that science is vital to resolve the biggest problems the world is facing, but 63% also believe that “the best days of science are still to come.”

Bonus takeaway exclusively for community members

  • Among the global issues, 47% think healthcare should be the top priority for science; in particular, 59% expect the development of vaccines to be the primary focus. 
  • 71% wish to see a cure for chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes being in their lifetime.
  • Skepticism among people is evident from the fact that 38% feel “too many conflicting opinions” are put out by scientists and therefore they feel skeptical about science.
  • 53% believe that science is the root of as many problems as solutions.
  • When it comes to belief in science, 45% believe science that “aligns with their personal beliefs.”
  • 61% value technology over science in their everyday life.
  • Science is viewed as boring by 23% people, while 37% feel that if science is explained in a way that is easy to understand, their interest in science would increase.

The report observes that compared to findings of the previous year, the trust in science has dipped slightly in most countries. On the upside, participants across the globe indicated their curiosity in understanding science better. It is evident that science communication is viewed as the most effective way of making science relatable to the non-scientific community.

What are your views on these findings? What according to you is the best way to improve science communication? Share your views and opinions with the Editage Insights community.  

The State of Science Index: 2019 Global Findings report can be accessed using this link.

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Published on: May 08, 2019

Sneha’s interest in the communication of research led her to her current role of developing and designing content for researchers and authors.
See more from Sneha Kulkarni


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