UK government calls for more public debate on science

March 15, 2005

Brussels, 14 Mar 2005

The UK Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt has called for greater public engagement and dialogue on science to help retain the UK's attractiveness in this field. Her statement comes after a new survey has shown that only 40 per cent of UK adults consider themselves well-informed about science.

The survey 'Science in Society', carried out by MORI, also revealed that although eight out of ten people believe that science makes a valuable contribution to society, seven out of ten adults think that the media sensationalises science issues.

'The UK has an excellent history of scientific achievement but with only four in ten people feeling informed about science and eight out of ten supportive of public consultation, now is the time for greater engagement and dialogue,' stated Ms Hewitt. 'And the public is keen for consultation to be followed by action on the outcomes' she added.

The poll, carried out between July and November 2004 and involving a representative quota of 1,831 adults across the UK, showed that in some respects public attitude is warming to science. Over the last five years, the level of trust in scientists has increased from 63 per cent to 70 per cent. Furthermore, in the past year, 56 per cent of adults have taken part in some science-based activity in their free time, such as visiting a zoo, a museum or planetarium.

'This report clearly shows a largely positive attitude among the UK public about science and perception of science issues. We need to continue to develop this,' says the UK's Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir David King. 'Science touches our lives every day and a huge majority of the public is positive about its contribution. Public trust and confidence in science is generally high. In order to build on this, the UK needs a mix of sustained funding, informed debate and sensible regulation.'

The report marks the start of the national science week organised by the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Helen Haste, the association's chair, welcomed Ms Hewitt's comments, explaining that the Association is working towards a culture of openness in which scientists talk about stem cell therapy, nanotechnology or animal cloning in public forums.

'Then, public discussion can take place in the full knowledge of the scientific evidence and of the values held by scientists and by the wider public,' she said. Professor Haste reminded the government, however, that talk is not cheap. 'Successful dialogue and consultation needs a properly funded infrastructure,' she commented. For read the full report please visit:

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