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EU public positive about influence of science, survey finds


But smaller share of survey respondents say they feel well informed about science and technology

Almost nine out of 10 EU citizens think the overall influence of science and technology is positive, a survey has found.

The Eurobarometer survey of almost 27,000 EU citizens and more than 10,000 citizens of other European countries was carried out for the European Commission’s research department, with the results published on 23 September.

It found that 86 per cent of EU respondents felt positively overall about science and tech. This was an increase of 9 percentage points since a similar survey conducted in 2013.

In this vein, most EU respondents said they expect technologies under development to have a positive effect on our way of life in the next 20 years, including solar energy (92 per cent), vaccines and other ways of combating infectious diseases (86 per cent) and artificial intelligence (61 per cent).

Similarly, 89 per cent of the EU respondents said they were interested in environmental problems, 86 per cent in new medical discoveries and 82 per cent in new scientific discoveries and technological developments.

Not all rosy

But the survey also revealed challenges for research and innovation in Europe.

Only 13 per cent of the EU respondents said they felt very well informed about scientific discoveries and technological developments, and 53 per cent moderately well informed.

More than half of the EU respondents said they think researchers in China, the United States and Japan are ahead of researchers in the bloc in terms of making scientific discoveries. Many said they think science and technology mostly help improve the lives of those who are already better off (57 per cent) and do not pay sufficient attention to differences between women’s and men’s needs (23 per cent).

Views of scientists themselves were largely positive, but only 58 per cent of EU respondents said they thought of scientists as being honest. Half agreed that scientists can no longer be trusted to tell the truth about controversial scientific and technological issues because they depend on money from industry. Only 23 per cent of respondents felt that scientists spend sufficient time meeting people like them to explain their work.

The EU R&D commissioner, Mariya Gabriel, welcomed the overall positive attitude towards science and technology. But she said: “We need to respond to citizens’ concerns that the benefits of science and technology are not equally distributed, to pay more attention to gender dimensions in research content, and to explore how research and innovation can be conducted with higher involvement of the citizens and other stakeholders.”