Science and technology policy

Results of surveys on recent trends in public understanding


Finns have confidence in science- the results of Finnish Science Barometer, 2001.

Finns have strong confidence in science and science is a matter of great public interest in Finland. These were among the main findings of the survey, "Science Barometer", commissioned by the Finnish Society for Scientific Information and published at the end of 2001.

62% of the respondents claimed to follow developments in science, research and technology with interest. Medicine is the field that inspires the most interest, followed by environmental research. Mass media provides information on scientific developments to the people, especially radio and television (92%) and newspapers (86%).

Finns have great confidence in universities and other institutions of higher learning (68%). The level of technology and medicine are thought to be good or very good (88%), and people think that scientific research can produce reliable results (58%). There is consensus that science can help humankind fight diseases such as cancer and AIDS; also, that it can improve material well-being and the standard of living. Three in four believe Finish science is of a high international standard and that science will be increasingly important to the future success not only of society at large but also individual citizens.

Finns also have some doubts and reservations. 19% expressed scepticism about the usefulness of sciences to people's daily life. While 45% think science can help improve the state of the environment, 33% do not think so. Respondents expressed hope, rather than confidence, that science can promote peace and prevent wars. The results demonstrate that Finns have confidence in science and are "realistically optimistic" about what science can do. An English-language summary of the findings is available from the Project Manager, Annikki Vaisanen, or

Growing interest in Science and Technology in Portugal

The two most recent surveys commissioned by the Portuguese Observatory for Science and Technology in 1996/97 and 2000 show a growing interest as well as confidence in science and technology in Portugal. However, the results also show the general lack of "scientific culture" of the Portuguese population compared to other Europeans.

Public interest in scientific-related issues has increased in recent years, especially in the field of medicine: in the 1996/97 survey, two in three Portuguese (69.3%) stated to be very or somewhat interested in discoveries in the field of medicine whereas in 2000, this figure rose to 75.6%. But also the interest in inventions and new technologies experienced a sharp increase, i.e. from 58% to 66.7%. Public confidence in science in general is also on the rise with almost 39% of the Portuguese declaring to have confidence in science compared to 32% in the 1996/97 survey.

A constantly increasing interest in science and technology of the Portuguese population in the years to come can be expected, especially among young and more qualified people: in fact, 83% of all respondents expressed the intention to improve their knowledge in this area. Especially through programs such as "Ciência Viva", aimed at promoting scientific and technological interest among the Portuguese population, participation in science-related activities has steadily increased. Whereas in 1997, 120 students participated in such programs, the number has increased almost six-fold to approximately 700 participants in 2001. Public confidence in science is also on the rise with almost 39% of the Portuguese declaring to have confidence in science compared to 32% in the 1996/97 survey. Additional information may be obtained from the web site of the Observatory for Science and Technology at

Dutch Population Has a Positive Attitude towards Science

The Dutch have a positive attitude towards science and technology and hold scientists in high esteem. The population's ideas on the meaning of the concept of science, however, are fairly vague. These were among the main findings of the survey "The image of science" carried out by the Social and Cultural Planning Office of the Netherlands (SCP) in 2001.

The Dutch population considers science as trustworthy and prestigious. Although the public perceives some risks, there is a marked optimism about the power of science to solve today's problems. Compared to 1985, the overall attitude towards technological innovations is more positive. However, there are ambiguities according to the type of innovation. While the internet or email are held in high esteem, there are still objections to genetically modified food, nuclear energy and military technology.

Only one in three Dutch is able to give a proper definition of the word science. In general, science is being associated with exact science and research. This may be due to the fact that 43% of the Dutch people never read anything concerning science, neither in books or magazines nor in newspapers. Almost half of the Dutch population (47%) also never watches programs related to science on TV. The complete report with the title "Het beeld van de wetenschap" (The Image of Science) can be ordered at the web site of the Social and Cultural Planning Office at

Britons Show Interest but not much Confidence in Science

According to a joint report by the Office of Science and Technology (OST) and the Wellcome Trust published in 2000, two-thirds of the Britons agree that science and technology make their lives healthier, easier and more comfortable. The areas Britons report to be very interested in are health issues (52%) and new medical discoveries (46%), even before sports (32%) and politics (15%). Only a fifth said that they are not interested in science.

With regard to the confidence in science, the results were rather ambivalent. When asked whether they thought the benefits of science are greater than the harmful effects, 43% of the respondents agreed, 17% disagreed and a third preferred to give no opinion. The British public is also concerned about what might go on "behind closed doors" in research institutions: over two-thirds agree that rules will not stop researchers doing what they want.

The respect for and attitude towards scientists, on the other hand, is very positive. Eight out of ten Britons agree that Britain needs to develop science and technology in order to enhance its international competitiveness. In line with this result, 84% think that scientists and engineers make a valuable contribution to society. In order to access the complete report, please log on to the web site of the Wellcome trust at

Austrian and Swedish results of the Eurobarometer survey.

These two countries reported on the results of the 2001 Eurobarometer survey. The complete results can be found at the website of the 2001 "Eurobarometer" report at

Less than half the Austrians (37.8%) is interested in science and technology according to the survey. In line with this result, more than half of the Austrian population (51.1%) has not visited a public library, art gallery or science and technology museum during the last year. According to the study, medicine (61.9%) and environment (51.9%) are the two areas of greatest scientific interest to Austrians, reflecting the overall preference of Europeans for these areas.

Confidence in professions with scientific background, on the other hand, seems to be rather high. Doctors are by far held in highest esteem (chosen by 65.2% of respondents), followed by scientists (36.2%). Regarding scientific knowledge, the Austrian average of correct responses over the 12 questions asked by the survey was 58.0%.

Swedes are well-informed and interested in science. Sweden has the highest percentage of the population interested in science and technology with 64.3% declaring to be interested in science-related topics compared to the European average of 45.3%. Interest in the social sciences is also more widespread in Sweden (40.9%) than the European average. Swedes also reported to have gone to a public library (75.3%), an art gallery (36.1%) or a science and technology museum (19.4%). The latter is the highest score of all countries participating in the survey.

More than two in three Swedes (70.3%) could give the correct answer to a question concerning the application of scientific methods in medicine compared to 36.7% on average for Europeans. The public in other Nordic countries, Finland and Denmark, are also better informed than the European average. The preferred sources of information on scientific developments for Swedes are TV (66.2%), the press (46.4%) and the radio (24.6%), showing a marked preference for the printed press in Sweden compared to other European countries.

Americans interested but not well informed about science

According to the 2001 survey carried out by the National Science Foundation (NSF), nine in ten Americans report are interested in new scientific discoveries and the use of new inventions and technologies. The area people are most interested in are medical discoveries, with two-thirds of the respondents reporting that they are very interested. No other item except local school issues, received such a high percentage of "very interested" responses. Half the respondents (44%) identified the television as the primary source of scientific information, followed by newspapers and magazines (16%) and the Internet (9%). However, there seems to be a growing tendency in using the Internet for the search of specific information about science and technology.

Americans, on the other hand, feel that they are not well informed about science and technology-related issues. Less than 15% of the respondents described themselves as well informed about new scientific discoveries and the use of new inventions with even one in three Americans claiming to be poorly informed. In addition, seven in ten Americans lack a basic knowledge about science and have no clear understanding of the scientific process. For instance, only about 50 % of the respondents knew that the earliest humans did not live at the same time as dinosaurs, that it takes the earth one year to go around the sun and that antibiotics do not kill viruses. Despite these results, four in five (81%) Americans still do widely support government funding of basic research, even if it does not lead to immediate benefits. For the complete 2001 survey, please consult the web site of the NSF at


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