Science and scientists held in high esteem across global publics

September 29, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sept. 29, 2020) - As publics around the world look to scientists and the research and development process to bring new treatments and preventive strategies for the novel coronavirus, a new Pew Research Center international survey finds scientists and their research are widely viewed in a positive light across global publics, and large majorities believe government investments in scientific research yield benefits for society.

Scientists as a group are highly regarded, compared with other prominent groups and institutions in society. In all publics, majorities have at least some trust in scientists to do what is right. A median of 36% have "a lot" of trust in scientists, the same share who say this about the military, and much higher than the shares who say this about business leaders, the national government and the news media.

Still, the wide-ranging survey, conducted in 20 different publics around the world before the COVID-19 outbreak reached pandemic proportions, reveals ambivalence over certain scientific developments - in areas such as artificial intelligence and genetically modified foods - often exist alongside high trust for scientists generally and positive views in other areas such as space exploration.

The survey - conducted in Australia, Brazil, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and the United States - is the Center's first in-depth examination of international public attitudes toward scientists and scientific topics.

Public concerns around climate change and environmental degradation remain widespread. In most publics, majorities view climate change as a very serious problem, say their government is not doing enough to address it and point to a host of environmental concerns at home including air and water pollution, overburdened landfills, deforestation and the loss of plant and animal species.

With renewed attention to the importance of public acceptance of vaccines, the new survey finds majorities in most publics tend to view childhood vaccines, such as that for measles, mumps and rubella, as relatively safe and effective, though sizable minorities across global publics hold doubts about this keystone tool of modern medicine.

"As the global landscape for scientific research continues to shift, these findings showcase the generally positive views that publics around the world hold for scientists and their work, as well as ideological fault lines in many places over how much to trust scientists," noted Cary Funk, director of science and society research. "This survey gives a portrait of global opinion on the place of science in society as challenges from the coronavirus outbreak were taking hold, and it sheds light on divisions over key civic issues ahead including vaccines, climate change and developments in AI," Funk said.

A median of 82% consider government investment in scientific research worthwhile, and majorities across the places surveyed view it as important to be a leader in scientific achievements. However, publics' assessments of their own achievements in science do not always measure up to their aspirations: A median of 42% say their scientific achievements are above average or the best in the world. However, the shares holding this view ranges from 8% in Brazil to 61% each in the U.S. and UK.

And in many places, publics see room for improvement when it comes to STEM education at the university and primary and secondary school levels. A median of 42% rate university education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in their survey public as above average or the best in the world, while a smaller median of 30% give high marks to their STEM education at the primary and secondary school level.

Other key findings include:The full report explores these findings with additional public-by-public comparisons and greater demographic detail, including analysis by education, age, political ideology, gender and geographic region. This report is based on a survey of more than 32,000 telephone and in-person interviews conducted in late 2019 and early 2020.
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The report will be available at this link at the time of release: https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2020/09/29/science-and-scientists-held-in-high-esteem-across-global-publics

For more information or to receive the full copy of the report, please email Haley Nolan at hnolan@pewresearch.org.

Pew Research Center

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