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Perceptions of science in media and the non-scientific community

Perceptions of science in media and the non-scientific community

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2014 and has been refreshed. 

Wouldn’t it be interesting to know how the general public perceives science and what their views are about researchers? The Public Attitudes to Science (PAS) study is an attempt at understanding how science is looked upon by the non-scientific community. PAS 2014 is the fifth in a series of studies looking at attitudes to science, scientists, and science policy among the UK public. The survey was conducted by Ipsos MORI, the second largest market research organization in the United Kingdom, in partnership with the British Science Association.

PAS 2014 used social listening and online research with the Ipsos MORI Connects online community, alongside the nationwide face-to-face survey, to build a picture of how the public engages with science online as well as offline. Additionally, it explored public attitudes towards four of the Government’s Eight Great Technologies: big data, agri-science, robotics, and emerging energy technologies. The data for 2014 are based on 1,749 adults aged 16+ (from the main survey) and 510 16-24 year-olds.

Some interesting findings of this survey are listed below:

  • 35% think that scientists adjust their findings to get the answers they want, and 29% think scientific research is never or only occasionally checked by other scientists before being published.
  • 71% of people surveyed think that the media sensationalizes science.
  • Half i.e. 51% still say they hear and see too little about science, while 69% think that “scientists should listen more to what ordinary people think.”
  • The benefits of science are greater than any harmful effects, say 55%.
  • 90% said they trusted scientists working for universities. This figure is 74% when you ask about scientists working for government, 88% for those working with charities and 60% with private companies.
  • 91% feel young people’s interest in science is necessary for future prosperity.
  • 66% say science is a dying industry while 40% of those polled feel that scientists are poor at communicating.
  • It is important to know about science in their daily life according to 72%.

A detailed report of the survey findings can be read here.

Alice Bells, an academic and teacher who blogs at The Guardian, points out that while reading this data one should take into consideration this poll is about public attitudes, not public understanding. The UK and Europe tend to focus more on the social connections people have with science and not on testing their knowledge, she explains. Although such information might seem vague, understanding the social context of science offers useful information. Such surveys invite people to challenge their preconceptions about science and technology in society, and give academicians an inkling of how they are looked upon by the general public.

Do you think surveys such as these can help science? According to you, how does the non-scientific community view science? Please share your views.

Related reading:

Misinformation in science news: How the media shapes public understanding

Let's talk science: Why researchers ought to reach out to the public

The need for public engagement

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