Poll finds people ‘trust’ scientists

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The poll was conducted by Global Science Now – an organisation whose founder is Sir David Attenborough Threats to scientific knowledge are “grossly exaggerated”, according to a new…

Poll finds people 'trust' scientists

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The poll was conducted by Global Science Now – an organisation whose founder is Sir David Attenborough

Threats to scientific knowledge are “grossly exaggerated”, according to a new poll of eight continents by Global Science Now.

It found that an overwhelming 83% of people believe scientists are trustworthy.

The findings were based on nearly 200 interviews with people in at least one research field between late 2013 and mid-2015.

Participants were asked to rate their trust in scientists in terms of trustworthiness, honesty, integrity, reasoning and prediction.

Of these characteristics, trust in scientific experts in Africa is highest in terms of trustworthiness and wisdom.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Trust was highest in Africa

On the other hand, satisfaction with the accuracy of weather and climate information received from scientists was lowest in Africa, as well as Asia.

Jon Asp, of Great Britain’s University of Nottingham, who co-led the poll, told BBC News science’s position in the general public’s minds “appears to be quite robust.”

“In some years, a lot of those ideas about scientific arrogance aren’t necessarily verified, and a couple of years later it can go away.”

He added: “We need to make sure our trust is very strong in the people who we interact with, and in terms of science, a lot of it is in the shape of expertise.”

There was no difference of opinion between men and women in the global poll.

But a more detailed analysis by the authors of the report revealed that women in many parts of the world expressed a higher level of trust in the role of science in society than men.

In South Africa, the Netherlands, India, Kenya, the USA and the UK, 70% of women said they had a high level of trust in science, compared to 70% of men.

In the UK, this was particularly true among 16-24 year olds.

Public opinion on the role of science was divided in Europe, with less than half (47%) of Europeans aged 15-74 having a high level of trust in scientific experts.

Just over two-thirds (66%) said they had a low level of trust in the experts.

Mr Asp said the widest gap was seen in Brazil. “It is almost perfectly correlated with people’s education,” he said.

Europeans were also found to be the most sceptical regarding the accuracy of scientific information.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Consultants spoke to 20,000 people globally in the two-year study

Of this group in every region of the world, 26% in Europe said that scientists were not as reliable as they should be.

The survey revealed a striking worldwide divide between science’s critics and its defenders, with almost six in 10 respondents supporting views that science should not be allowed to influence politics and government policy.

“It shows that a lack of confidence is not just restricted to people who are worried about global warming,” Mr Asp said.

“It’s also sceptical or wary people who aren’t sure about the mission and purpose of the scientific process.”

He added: “We are beginning to see the beginnings of a parallel point where a huge number of people are uninterested in science.”

The Global Science Now poll is one of five global polls that have been carried out since October 2013 by the non-profit organisation to investigate the public’s relationship with science.

The other polls show similar results to the Global Science Now poll:

Trust in scientists: 66% among 14 to 18 year olds, 61% among those between the ages of 16 and 64, and 55% among those between 35 and 64

Trust in science and scientists in Latin America: 77%

Trust in science and scientists in Asia: 72%

Trust in science and scientists in the Middle East: 59%

Trust in science and scientists in the US: 53%

The data was collected through a survey of 20,000 people in 19 countries between April and September last year.

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