Public ‘more confident medical research will improve lives’

Wellcome Trust Monitor Report finds more certainty about the benefits of breakthroughs, but a mixed picture of general scientific knowledge

April 12, 2016
Female scientist at work in laboratory

The British public appear to have increasing confidence that medical research will lead to improvements in their quality of life, according to a new survey of attitudes released by the Wellcome Trust.

The Wellcome Trust Monitor Report, which is conducted every three years, found that 58 per cent of respondents believe that medical research will “definitely” lead to an improvement in quality of life over the next 20 years, compared with only 41 per cent in 2009.

In all three years the survey has been conducted, more than nine in 10 people have said that research will “definitely” or “probably” lead to a better quality of life. But the percentage of people not optimistic about the fruits of medical research has dropped from 7 to 4 per cent from 2009 to 2015.

Just over three-quarters of people said they were very or fairly interested in medical research, the survey, released today, found. Generally, the public are interested in the same areas as in 2012, although mental health appears to have risen in prominence.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of respondents said that understanding science was either “very” or “fairly” useful in their everyday lives.

However, there was evidence that science journalists may not be communicating effectively to everyone. Half of respondents said they “sometimes” understand science news stories, while one in 10 said they usually did not understand them.

There also appears to have been little improvement by the public on a nine-point science quiz, which asked respondents to answer true or false to statements such as “lasers work by focusing sound waves” and “by eating a genetically modified fruit, a person’s genes could also become modified”.

Around three in 10 people got no more than one answer wrong, but 19 per cent got at least half wrong – a poorer performance than if they had guessed.

Men were more likely to score highly than women, perhaps because they have a greater propensity to guess when less than certain, the survey suggested. Those over 65 scored worse than younger respondents.

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