Brussels, 23 Feb 2005
A new analysis of research into public perception of science in 40 different countries appears to have proven a widely-held assumption - that the more a person knows about science, the more they support scientific activity.
Previous research aimed at testing the link between levels of scientific knowledge and attitudes towards science have produced mixed results. Seeking a conclusive answer, however, a team led by Nick Allum from the University of Surrey in Guildford, the UK, collated the results of some 200 surveys carried out between 1998 and 2003 around the world.
The studies looked at whether people knew certain scientific facts and assessed their attitudes towards, for example, genetically modified foods and nanotechnology. To a certain extent, says Dr Allum, the team's findings confirmed that the more people know about science, the more favourably they tend to view it, regardless of other factors such as age, nationality or level of education.
Despite having established this link, however, Dr Allum warns that it is not reasonable to assume that improving people's scientific knowledge will boost public support for research, or encourage more young people to study scientific subjects. This is because researchers can't rule out the possibility that those people that are already supportive of scientific endeavour are simply more inclined to learn more about it.
Dr Allum argues that an individual's level of scientific knowledge is just one of many factors explaining their attitudes towards science. He believes that other factors, such as moral values, religious beliefs and political leanings, may be far more important.
So despite having established a link between public levels of scientific knowledge and their support for the field, it appears that the job of boosting popular support for science will require more than simply additional science education. 'It's all horribly complicated,' admits Dr Allum.
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