A widening gap in public confidence in research

Press Release 21 March 2012

Public confidence in scientists and research has declined over the past decade. Differences in attitudes are becoming greater between highly educated and less educated people. These are the findings of a new analysis that has been done of opinion surveys carried out by VA (Public and Science), together with the SOM Institute.

The research project Science in Society, led by Professor Sören Holmberg and Professor Lennart Weibull in a collaboration between the SOM Institute and VA, looks at how people’s confidence and willingness to invest in research has changed from 2002 to 2010.

Confidence in how researchers carry out their work has declined, especially among older people, the less educated and women. Confidence in research in the various faculty disciplines is generally stable but occasionally increases among younger people and those who are more highly educated, whereas there is a clear decrease in confidence among older and less educated people.

“It is worrying that differences in public opinion of research are becoming greater. We need to work harder to engage the whole of society in knowledge creation,” says Karin Hermansson, Director of Research and Administration of VA, who is in charge of VA’s opinion surveys.

With regard to the various parliamentary parties, confidence in research has declined most among supporters of the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats, and increased most among supporters of the Green Party and Left Party.

Those with the greatest average level of confidence in research are supporters of the Liberal Party (of whom 23 percent have very high confidence), followed by the Green Party (21 percent), the Left Party and the Moderates (20 percent). The Centre Party and Social Democrats are at 15 percent and the Sweden Democrats at 12 percent.

The proportion of Swedes who support investment in cutting-edge research in various fields has declined in several areas, especially among the less educated. The changes are small, but the trend is clear. Those who most support investment in cutting-edge research are the supporters of the Green Party and those who are least supportive are the Sweden Democrats.

“The greater the confidence people have in research, the more they support investment in cutting-edge research, and vice versa. We should therefore try to hold on to this confidence if we want the Swedish people to continue to support an ambitious research and innovation policy,” says Sören Holmberg, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Gothenburg and the SOM Institute.

The study involves 3,000 Swedes annually and is part of the SOM opinion survey (Society, Opinion, Mass Media) at the University of Gothenburg. The analysis will be presented at a conference on Wednesday, at which VA will be celebrating its tenth anniversary.

For more information, see the report A decade of science in society an analysis of the SOM Institute’s surveys 20022010 (in Swedish only) or contact:

Karin Hermansson, Director of Research and Administration of VA, 070-867 66 77, [email protected]

Cissi Askwall, Secretary General of VA, 070-626 44 74, [email protected]

High-resolution images for publication www.v-a.se/om-va/press/pressbilder/

VA (Public and Science) promotes dialogue and openness between researchers and the public – especially young people.  The organisation works to create new forms of dialogue about research. VA is also developing new knowledge on the relationship between research and society through surveys and studies. Its members consist of some 80 organisations, authorities, companies and associations. In addition, it has a number of individual members. For more information visit www.v-a.se/in-english/

The SOM Institute is an independent survey organisation at the University of Gothenburg. The Institute has collaborated with researchers from a range of disciplines since 1986, aiming to explore Swedes’ attitudes in a range of areas and to understand the evolution of the Swedish society.

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