Around the World, Most Approve of Scientists and Their Work: Poll

Ella Castle

(AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein) (CN) — The world’s citizens largely view scientists in a positive light and show especially high approval of environmental science, space exploration and vaccination studies, according to Pew Research Center’s first international survey on attitudes toward scientists and their research. “As the global landscape for scientific research […]

(AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

(CN) — The world’s citizens largely view scientists in a positive light and show especially high approval of environmental science, space exploration and vaccination studies, according to Pew Research Center’s first international survey on attitudes toward scientists and their research.

“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,” said Cary Funk, director of science and society research at the nonpartisan research organization, in a statement.

Pew researchers conducted more than 32,000 interviews with adults in person and over the phone in 20 nations across the Americas, Asia and Europe — notably, no African nation was polled — to see how adults across the globe felt about scientists and their work. The data allowed the pollsters to find the median value for each question across the nations.

The median is not the mean, or average, answer between the nations’ respondents. The median percentage represents something like a representative, “middle” answer to each question.

The surveys were conducted between October 2019 and March 2020, mostly before the global coronavirus outbreak had reached pandemic proportions and surely influenced opinions about public health and vaccines.

“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 in the statement.

A median of 82% of global respondents said that scientific research is government funding well spent, though most are modest about their own nation’s achievements. While majorities say it is important for a country to lead in scientific achievement, a median of 42% say their own government’s achievements are either above average or the best in the world.

Only 8% of Brazilians feel this way, for instance, while 61% of respondents from both the U.K. and the U.S. citizens said their nations’ achievements rank at least above the average.

A median of 36% of global respondents said they have “a lot” of trust in scientists, which the Pew researchers note is a “much higher” share of world citizens who say this about business leaders, government officials and the news.

Across the globe, respondents who identify themselves as leaning politically left are more likely to express greater trust in scientists compared to respondents who say they lean to the right.

The greatest disparities on this question appear in the U.S., where 62% of left-leaning panelists said they trust scientists a lot and only about 20% of right-leaning respondents agreed, and in Canada, where 74% on the left said they had a lot of trust in scientists while only 35% of right-leaning Canadians said the same.

In India, 59% of respondents said they have a lot of trust that scientists will do what’s best for their country. In South Korea, this number is only 14%. 

Most nations’ respondents said climate change is a serious problem: across the 20 polled publics, a 70% median agree that climate change is affecting their local communities in some way, and a median of 58% expressed concern that their government is not adequately addressing climate change.

Regarding energy priorities, a median of only 10% of all respondents said that fossil fuel energy production should ramp up, while wind, solar and other renewable energies enjoyed broad, worldwide support at 86%.

The majority of poll participants also agreed that childhood vaccines are effective and safe, but the survey did indicate that notably large minorities are holding out against vaccination. 

In Australia, Spain and Sweden, at least 80% agree that vaccines are highly beneficial. But in France, Japan, Malaysia, Russia, Singapore and South Korea, at least half of respondents said that vaccination carries a “medium or high” risk. The Pew researchers concluded that right-wing populist respondents are less likely to see vaccines’ positive health benefits, and are more likely to overrate their risks.

Artificial intelligence and automation are divisive issues across the planet. In Taiwan, India, South Korea and Singapore, at least two-thirds of panelists said that AI has been a good thing for society. But on the other hand, less than four in 10 French and Polish respondents agreed.

Since the study concluded in early 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has plunged the world into lockdowns. Pew surveys have since found that Americans quickly feared the coronavirus, that a quarter of U.S. adults said that a “plandemic” conspiracy theory is “probably” true, and that coronavirus chat has permeated our daily lives.

Recent Pew research also found that the United States’ international standing has worsened due to the federal government’s response to the pandemic — which Americans expressed widespread distaste for in July.

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