What are the overall attitudes of European citizens towards science & technology? How do Europeans view the role of science in their own lives and in society at large? At the ALLEA Digital Salon, we take a closer look at the latest Eurobarometer survey on ‘European citizens’ knowledge and attitudes towards science and technology‘ to find data-driven answers to these questions.
Europeans rank science positively, but they do not feel well informed
The survey shows a generally optimistic outlook, stating that 9 in 10 EU citizens (86%) think that the overall influence of science and technology is positive, which represents an increase of 9 percentage points since a similar survey conducted in 2013. In many areas, EU citizens’ interest in, expectations of, and engagement with science and technology have grown in recent years. Overall, there is a high level of interest in science and technology (82%) and a desire amongst citizens to learn more about it in places like town halls, museums and libraries (54%).
However, while citizens have high levels of interest in science and technology, they do not feel quite so well informed: only 21% of respondents say they are very informed about environmental problems including climate change and 61% say they are moderately informed. When it comes to new medical discoveries, only 13% say they are very informed and 54% moderately well informed. Additionally, while 54% agree that they would like to learn more about scientific developments, 46% of respondents agree that science is so complicated that they do not understand much about it (28% disagree) and 33% agree that in their daily life it is not important to know about science (46% disagree).
Views on the benefits of science
Most Europeans expect a range of technologies currently under development to have a positive effect on our way of life in the next 20 years, including solar energy (92%), wind energy (87%), vaccines and combatting infectious diseases (86%), and information and communication technology (82%). Respondents also think that that health and medical care (47%) and the fight against climate change (40%) are the areas where science and technology can make the most difference. Only a minority (25%) agree that science and technology do not really benefit people like them.
However, while more than half (57%) agree that science and technology could improve everyone’s lives, they also think that they mostly improve the lives of people who are already better off. Moreover, 7 in 10 (70%) respondents agree that science and technology could improve living conditions in less developed countries, but they mostly improve living conditions in already well-off countries.
Engagement with science and technology
Respondents were also asked how they engaged with science and technology. Most EU citizens get their information about science and technology from television (63%), followed by online social networks and blogs (29%) and online or in-print newspapers (24%). Respondents also cited watching documentaries (59%), talking about science and technology issues with family or friends (55%), visiting science and technology museums (33%), and studying science and technology-related issues in their free time (22%) the most frequently.
Asked why they may sometimes find it difficult to engage with science and technology, respondents most frequently mention lack of time (41%), lack of knowledge in the field of science and technology (39%), and lack of interest (34%).
Views of scientists and their role in society
Respondents also have a mostly positive view of scientists, with 89% saying that the term “intelligent” best describes scientists, followed by “reliable” (68%), “collaborative” ( 66%), and “honest” (58%). Asked what qualities they want to see most in scientists, respondents mentioned “intelligence” (50%), “honesty” (43%), “reliability” (39%), and “morality” (34%).
Respondents tend to agree that scientists should intervene in political debate to ensure that decisions take into account scientific evidence (68%), with fewer agreeing with the opposite statement that scientists should not intervene in political debate when decisions ignore scientific evidence (39%).
On the other hand, 50% of respondents agree that people can no longer trust scientists to tell the truth about controversial scientific and technological issues because they depend more and more on money from industry (21% disagree with this). Moreover, most respondents (51%) agree that scientists don’t spend sufficient time meeting people like them to explain their work (23% disagree).
About the Eurobarometer survey
The Eurobarometer survey, commissioned by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation and published on 23 September 2021, is the largest one to date on science and technology in terms of number of participants. Some 26,827 respondents in the 27 EU Member States were interviewed in their mother tongue and the data was weighted to be socio-demographically representative at country level. The survey was also conducted in 11 other countries or territories, where a total of 10,276 respondents were interviewed in their mother tongue: five candidate countries (Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey), as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Kosovo, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. In total, 37,103 respondents from EU and non-EU countries and territories took part in the survey, conducted between 13 April and 10 May 2021 primarily through face-to face interviews.
The engagement of citizens, local communities and civil society will be at the core of the new European Research Area to achieve greater societal impact and increased trust in science.