The majority of the European population is interested in science, follows scientific information through conventional and digital communication channels, and believes that it is the most objective and valid knowledge today. But in practice, there is a gap between this interest and the level of knowledge. While most Europeans understand several basic scientific concepts, such as the role of plants in ensuring oxygen (90%), the origin of the universe (70%), and the origin and evolution of humans (79%) , there is a significant lack regarding health and the environment, such as the indications of antibiotics and climate change: only 50% of citizens are able to identify as wrong the idea that “antibiotics destroy viruses” ” and only 37% recognize the falsehood that “climate change occurs due to the hole in the ozone layer”. In Spain, the figures drop to 43% and 27%, respectively.
These are some of the data from the study. scientific culture of the BBVA Foundation, published today, which analyzes the interest in science, the understanding of it and the perception of its effects on the world by the citizens of Spain, Germany, France and the United Kingdom. Despite the fact that this gap exists in terms of the lack of knowledge about important scientific concepts, the authors consider that “the data is favorable in the four European societies regarding science as an institution” and indicate that there is a high level of trusted by the scientific community, especially in Spain. “The majority [de las personas] knows reasonably well how scientific theories and models are validated: through observations and experiments that can be replicated by independent researchers and published in scientific journals, to become public knowledge,” Mariana Szmulewicz, a researcher at the Department of Social Studies and Public Opinion of said organization and one of the authors. The study was conducted between October and November 2022, with a representative sample of 1,500 participants per country.
In Spain, in the last decade, there has been a growing popular interest in science. In 2012, only 15% of the population said that science was present in conversations with family or friends very or quite frequently, a figure that rose to 47% in 2022, according to the report. Despite the growth in terms of popularity, Spain lags behind its European peers when it comes to its scientific contribution to the world. Spaniards perceive the lack of support from companies, society and public authorities based on the development of science: only half consider that Spain makes scientific contributions globally, while 8 out of 10 Germans favorably value the role of your country in contributing knowledge to the world.
Both the approach and the positive perception of science follow a trend: it is the youngest and most educated who present higher levels of scientific knowledge and recognize its consequences. According to the researcher, this population, which to a greater extent has completed secondary and even tertiary studies, has the bases to identify the continuous advances in science after leaving the classroom. “With this greater knowledge, in general, there are more favorable attitudes towards science, but also the ability to discriminate between scientific developments, without the need to uncritically adopt everything that comes from or is presented as scientific”, emphasizes Szmulewicz.
To combat this generational gap, the expert assures that it is necessary to “counteract through the educational system” and fight to transmit in an understandable way the knowledge that is produced in scientific institutions, such as universities and other public research organizations: “Especially Crisis contexts, such as the pandemic and climate change, constitute windows of opportunity to capture the attention of the public that has already left the classroom,” he adds.
The research demonstrates a belief that science will guide material progress in the world and will be responsible for helping to improve people’s lives, especially in health-related issues, such as contributing to cancer treatment and disease management. the pandemics. Most of the respondents believe that the fruits of science in relation to technological developments such as solar energy, biotechnology, nanotechnology and even artificial intelligence will open the doors for a better world.
But there are nuances. When it comes to its contribution to solving social issues such as poverty, there is no consensus: only 42% of all countries believe that science will contribute “a lot” or “enough” to reducing social inequality. In relation to climate change, the data shows that a vast majority trusts the scientific evidence and that science and technology will play a fundamental role in tackling it. “But surely they also understand that in addition to knowledge, other changes will need to be carried out in the social, organizational and economic spheres”, assures the BBVA Foundation researcher.
Science, politics and religion
Affinity with science is also somewhat greater among those who declare themselves to be on the left than on the right and less religious, although “it is not in any way a rejection,” says the study. The data shows a consensus in all countries (84% on average and 95% in Spain) that religious beliefs should not limit scientific advances. “Even the majority of the believing population accepts the current explanation about the origin of the universe or the evolution of human beings from previous animal species,” stresses Szmulewicz.
In Spain, the most intense rejection by these groups is associated with some areas of the life sciences, such as biomedical research with embryos or others “that clash with moral criteria of a religious matrix.” To deal with such frictions, Szmulewicz suggests that the scientific community be “open to a dialogue about the ethical aspects of their work,” in addition to passing on knowledge. Despite this, the European scenario is positive. “Neither in most of Europe nor in Spain is there the phenomenon of organized resistance and distrust of science that has been documented in the United States, associated with political leaders and think tank [gabinetes de estrategia] ultra-conservative orientation”, concludes the researcher.
In all four countries, the vast majority of respondents associate a scientific career with prestige and that it is more demanding than most other professions. About 90% of the sample states that women are as qualified as men to hold scientific positions.
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