12/12 2012 – Confidence in researchers increases

Press release 12 December 2012

A large majority of Swedes have a high level of confidence in researchers. Most of them also believe that both scientific and technological developments have made life better for people. At the same time, the number of people who believe that research can help boost economic growth has reduced.  These are the findings of VA’s (Public and Science) latest VA barometer, an opinion survey on how science is perceived by the public.

86 percent of people have a high or very high level of confidence in researchers at universities and university colleges, compared with 77 percent in 2011. Confidence in researchers working at companies is 67 percent, an increase of 16 percent in one year.

“Confidence has fluctuated somewhat during the ten years that we have been carrying out the survey, and attitudes to research seem to be easily influenced by external events. No big scandals preceded this year’s survey. On the contrary, the Swedish government’s and the opposition’s willingness to invest in research has been given much coverage,” says Maria Lindholm, Director of Research at VA, who is in charge of the barometer.

Four out of five people believe that both scientific and technological advances are making life better for ordinary people. Although, 48 percent think that science and technology are too difficult for most people to understand, an increase from 40 percent in 2010. On the other hand, fewer and fewer people believe that Sweden should just invest in ‘useful’ research. However, more people than ever – 43 percent compared with 36 percent in 2010 – don’t agree at all with such prioritisation.

“Young people and those with a university education have less ‘respect’ for research, and, therefore, do not think that science is too difficult to understand and, to a greater extent, maintain that research should not be limited to just ‘useful’ research. Possibly more and more people are realising that immediate relevance is not always a measurement of long-term usefulness,” says Maria Lindholm.

Confidence in the potential of research to solve societal problems varies. For example, there is a decrease in the percentage of people who believe that over the next decade there is a good chance that research will help aid economic growth (from 73 percent last year to 62 percent this year). Fewer also believe that research can increase the percentage of pupils who finish compulsory education with the qualifications to continue in upper secondary school (from 55 percent in 2010 to 48 percent this year). On the other hand, an increasing proportion (83 percent) believes that research can help to slow the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria. As many as 97 percent feel that researchers should have full or limited access to databases containing information about individual people’s genetic predisposition to illnesses and their state of health.

“Given the debate about whether register-based research violates personal privacy, our results suggest that many people feel they can trust the scientific community. It also shows the importance of researchers being involved in discussions about the aims of such research and how it is carried out,” says Cissi Askwall, Secretary General of VA.

Assisted by market research company Exquiro, VA carried out telephone interviews with a representative sample of the Swedish population aged 16–74.  It is the 11th survey to be conducted since 2002 and involves 1,003 people. The VA barometer is carried out with the support of the Research councils FAS, Formas, VINNOVA and the Swedish Research Council.

For more information, read the VA barometer at www.v-a.se or contact:

Maria Lindholm, Director of Research at VA, 070-867 66 77

Cissi Askwall, Secretary General of VA, 070-626 44 74

High definition photographs for publication are available here.

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/

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