Almost Half of Canadians Think That Science is a “Question of Opinion”

In a survey conducted last month by the Canadian Science Center Education, almost half of Canadians – 43 percent – said science was “a matter of opinion.”

The survey was conducted by Leger and surveyed 1,514 Canadians. It was carried out from August 15 to 16 and was held for the Scientific Literacy Week. According to the survey, the Scientific Literacy Week is also considered as strongly needed. 33 percent of Canadians are considered “scientifically illiterate”: 30 percent of men and 43 percent of women.

News that gets worse

A third of Canadians believe that “science can not be trusted, as it is always subject to change.”

Almost half of the respondents (47%) said that the science about global warming was not clear. That was higher than last year’s survey, where only 40% of people felt that way. If anyone had hoped that Canadian youths would be more scientifically literate than their elders, he would be disappointed. The belief that vaccines cause autism – a belief that has been completely discredited by the scientific community – was higher among millennial’s (24%).

It’s no surprise, but according to the Director General of the Ontario Science Center, this is a bit disconcerting!

“This failure in trust has serious consequences for Canada because our future health, prosperity and security depend on making important, sometimes difficult, decisions based on scientific discoveries,” said Dr. Maurice Bitran, PDG and Director of Science of Ontario. Science Center, to Emily Chung, of CBC.

So, why do Canadians have so little faith in science?

Seventy-nine percent believe that the “false news” defined in a nebulous way are damaging the public perception of science, and 59% believe that scientific news is presented to support a political position. 68 percent of Canadians believe that scientific news is reported selectively, to support media objectives, while 30 percent say they do not have the ability to understand scientific reports in the media.

So, what does this mean for Canadian science? The country that discovered insulin and that mapped the visual cortex and invented the Jolly Jumper will never have another scientific breakthrough?

Means that confuse

Kelly Bronson, a professor at the University of Ottawa who has studied and written about scientific communication, told the public broadcaster CBC that people are confused about where to go for reliable information.

She thinks that the media are partly guilty of focusing too much on telling both sides of the story: “It does not help the public to learn to distinguish true knowledge from mere opinion, if both receive the same weight in a story.”

In many cases, while the scientific consensus is developed around issues such as climate change, scientists from different areas of knowledge can generate findings that seem to be in conflict with each other.

“And these often find their way into the media, which can be confusing to the general public that actually has no idea how science works.”

The public may not realize that in science, conclusions are always probable rather than definitive, based on the best available evidence, he says.

She added that some people with particular interests “actively try to use some degree of that legitimate scientific uncertainty against the general public” to spread misinformation and mistrust in science.

And he believes that reliable sources such as museums, educational institutions and even journalists need to do more to educate the public about “how scientific knowledge is obtained”.

Bitran says that’s something the Ontario Science Center is trying to do.

News that improve

Dawn Sutherland, of the Canadian Research Chair in Cultural Education in Cultural Contexts at the University of Winnipeg, thinks that some of the questions in the survey about the scientific findings are flawed and of little use, since the statements with which the respondents they agreed or disagreed represent extremes and could contain more than one interpretation.

She points out that the survey revealed some good news:

  • 81% of Canadians believe that science is based on objective facts, and the same number believes that scientific findings are objective facts.
  • 82 percent of respondents said they “would like to know more about science and how it affects our world.”
  • 79 percent said they were comfortable “knowing that the scientific answers may not be definitive.”

Respondents said they relied on museums and science centers (89 percent), scientists and professors (88 percent) and educational institutions (87 percent) as sources of information, but relied much less on word of mouth ( 25 percent) and in social media (20%).

Eight out of ten Canadians believe that more funds should be devoted to science education and research. More importantly, 82% of Canadians want to learn more about science.

Sutherland, who was part of a panel of experts that produced a report on the State of Scientific Culture of Canada in 2014, said it is positive that Canadians understand that scientific knowledge contains inferences along with facts.

“And as technology advances and new discoveries emerge that can change our understandings, it’s a great insight into how Canadians view science,” he wrote in an email to CBC News.

“In addition, Canadians have perhaps a healthy skepticism when it comes to information outside of traditional sources.”

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