understanding attitudes to science: reviewing public attitudes research

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Slides shown at Science & The Public Conference - 3 July 2010

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  • 1.Science and the Public 2010 Imperial College, London and the Science Museum 4 July 2010 Dr Suzanne King (PSP); Tara Webster (PSP); Dr Marilyn Booth (BIS) Understanding Attitudes to Science: Reviewing Public Attitudes Survey research

2. Presentation

  • Background to 2009 work
  • Methodology
  • Attitudes to science
  • Awareness and understanding of science and research
  • Science infrastructure
  • Trust in research findings
  • Implications for PAS 2011
  • Next steps

3. Rationale

  • BIS committed to measuring public attitudes to science (inc engineering)
    • 2000, 2005 & 2008 studies
  • Previously influenced by HM TreasurysScience & Innovation Investment Framework 2004-2014
    • Want to know more about interest in science, science education & specific themes
    • Engagement with science
    • Trust in science and scientists
  • Asked PSP to look at 2008 survey -www.rcuk.ac.uk/cmsweb/downloads/rcuk/scisoc/pas08guide.pdf
  • Science and Society Strategy (2009)
    • Useful time to evaluate where weve come from & where were going
    • Asked PSP to consider usefulness of existing survey instrument and scope for improvement
    • In tandem with synthesis of results from completed Sciencewise dialogues
    • Seehttp:// interactive.bis.gov.uk /scienceandsociety/site/for reports and detailed annexes

4. Method

  • Review of qualitative research 2000/2005/2008
  • 16 cognitive interviews focusing on
    • specific elements of 2008 questionnaire
    • new questions based on the analysis of the 2008 survey data
    • Conducted in November 2009
  • Interviews with Chairs of five Expert groups
  • Reanalysis of attitude statements from 2008 (by TNS-BMRB)

5. Science and Research 6. What is Science?

  • Science not top of mind
  • One doesnt appreciate the science that you are using all the time, one doesnt think about it.You touch on it briefly when it comes and hits you on the television - those sorts of things.On a day-to-day basis I dont think that one considers it.
    • Female, 66+yrs, ABC1
  • Science seen as a huge subject
  • Initial definitions of science fairly limited

7. What is Science?

  • To the public science is:
    • how living things and natural systems work
      • Science, erm, it reminds me of school actually, being back at school, science lessons.Yeah, different things I suppose.I suppose in science youve got biology and chemistry, theres all sorts of different sciences.
      • Female, 20-34yrs, C2DE
    • progress for society, more knowledge and new products
      • Science, technology, whatever you call it, in my lifetime has moved on.If you just take a simple phone, ten years ago walking around with a brick and now we are looking at things that are matchbox size.
      • Female, 66+yrs, ABC1
  • Science at BIS = life, physical, social sciences, arts and humanities research

8. Must Science be Useful?

  • Distinction between:
    • science for a purpose
    • science for the sake of science .
  • Sometimes when they develop these embryos in labs...I wouldnt like to think that is something where they just let them die just for sciences sake.
    • Female, 51-65yrs, C2DE
  • Some support for furthering knowledge without a clear purpose, although anticipated knowledge useful eventually.
  • 81% agreed even if it brings no immediate benefits, scientific research which advances knowledge is necessary and should be supported by government (PAS 2008)

9. Concerns about Scientific Research

  • Focused on fields where humans or animals might be harmed.
  • Removed the mystery of life.
  • Some found it hard to distinguish between research into the topic and the topic itself.

10. Science and ResearchImplications for PAS 2011

  • When asking about science respondents will most likely think of:
    • biology, physics and chemistry and science at school
    • using science in our daily lives in medicine, ICT, etc
  • Asking about benefits must tease out long term as well as immediate
  • When asking about concerns about research in specific fields respondents will think:
    • only about the topic, not research into the topic
    • about what conducting research in a topic might entail
    • both

11. Science Infrastructure 12. Scientific Research:Who does it? Who funds it?

  • Awareness of system of knowledge production very limited.
  • Low levels of awareness of:
    • who undertakes scientific research
    • how it is funded
  • Guess that research is carried out/funded by:
    • industry
    • government
    • charities
    • rich individuals
  • Universities only mentioned by a few

13. Understanding of University Research

  • Low level of understanding of the role of scientists in universities.
  • Mainly thought of as teachers.
  • Research thought to be poor quality/conducted by students.
  • Because theyre in universities you might think theyre not as trained., obviously youve got to have some sort of training, but not as much as someone in industry or something where its very important what theyre doing.
    • Female, 20-34, C2DE

14. Understanding of Regulation

  • Low level of awareness of the regulatory system that governs scientific research.
  • Not something that had concerned them.
  • Most assumed regulation by a government body.
  • Most believed regulations for scientists crucial
    • especially for experimentation on humans or animals.

15. Science Infrastructure Implications for PAS 2011

  • Questions about conduct, funding, regulation need to probe deeper to assess levels of understanding
  • Otherwise false assumptions can be made about findings

16. Trust 17. Trust Research Findings

  • Trust in findings of research is dependent on:
    • Channels of communication
    • Validation processes
    • Trust in scientists
    • Trust in the organisations funding science

18. Channels of Communication

  • Findings not heard directly from scientists.
    • None read academic journals.
      • Some mentioned popular science publications e.g. New Scientist
      • Mainly heard about developments in science from mainstream media.
  • Of the mainstream media sources, BBC the most trusted.
  • TV is more trusted than newspapers.
  • More sceptical about newspapers (particularly red-tops)
    • perceive greater political bias and tendency to sensationalise

19. Validating Research Findings

  • Some took information at face value
  • Value judgements based on:
    • How well findings correspond to pre-existing beliefs and values
    • Volume of evidence supporting findings
  • Where new research seems to contradict pre-existing research, doubt is thrown on the whole subject.

20. Trust in Scientists

  • Scientists are viewed positively
  • Scientists seen to bring benefits to humanity and to be altruistic at heart.
  • But
  • Many imagined that (some) scientists would hide things from the public or lie to attain their goals
  • Scientists would, on occasion, violate rules.

21. Trust in Science Funding Organisations

  • Image of funding organisations can impact on credibility of research findings.
  • Wary of bias resulting from agendas and interests:
    • Businesses financial interests
    • Campaign groups own motivations
    • Charities better trusted but own objectives
    • Government

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