Australians back science but public scepticism on the rise

Health Industry Hub | August 5, 2022 |
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Medical: Australians overwhelmingly trust in science and scientists, and strongly fear negative consequences for our society if people don’t value science enough, new research finds.

But a rising tide of public wariness about social media misinformation risks fuelling scepticism in science, the new data released to launch National Science Week reveals.

A major new study published yesterday finds Australians see science as indispensable, say it was our salvation in the pandemic and is the key to tackling existential threats such as climate change.

Industry & Science Minister Ed Husic MP officially launched National Science Week at an event delivered by Science & Technology Australia for the Australian Government. The launch theme is Celebrating First Nations Sciences.

The 3M State of Science Index measures public attitudes to science in 17 countries. More than 1000 Australians were surveyed for the global poll in early 2022.

Science & Technology Australia Chief Executive Officer Misha Schubert said “Australians strongly value and trust science, and we see clearly how important science is to our safety and prosperity.”

“Science has saved us time and again during the COVID-19 pandemic – and Australians appreciate science’s key role to help us tackle major threats including climate change, which is causing more frequent terrifying extreme weather like floods, cyclones, megafires, droughts, and heatwaves.”

The survey reveals Australians have very strong levels of trust in science – higher than in many other nations – with nine in ten of us saying we trust science and scientists. Four in five Australians say they want to hear more from scientists about their work.

The survey highlighted Australians’ fears about what might happen if people don’t value science, with three in five believing it would lead to more public health crises and more than half believing it would lead to greater division in society.

The survey also shines a light on public fears around science misinformation and a growing scepticism about scientific information shared in the media and on social media platforms.

Three in four Australians believe there is now widespread misinformation (on all topics – not specifically on science) in mainstream news, and nine in ten Australians think there is widespread misinformation on all topics on social media.

Against that backdrop, the public level of scepticism around science has risen slightly from 25% in 2021 to 32% in 2022.

“We live in an era of general wariness and distrust of information – especially on social media – which is feeding into a rising tide of concern about social media misinformation that risks fuelling public scepticism in science unless we all act to safeguard it,” Ms Schubert said.

“It’s more important than ever that we all help Australians to find credible, accurate and verified sources of scientific facts from reputable science experts, which highlights the hugely important role of trusted science organisations to share science with the public.”

Eleni Sideridis, Managing Director of 3M Australia and New Zealand, said science is viewed as essential to shaping, strengthening and improving Australia.

“The last few years have shown Australians the true value of science. We have seen a global pandemic unfold, the impacts of climate change and increasing weather events firsthand. The people of Australia know that science holds the solutions to many of these issues,” she said.

“The results of the 3M State of Science Index demonstrates how we as a nation recognise misinformation. It shows the importance of science communities, such as those within Science and Technology Australia and 3M being present in the public eye to ensure transparency and clearly communicated solutions to Australia’s biggest problems. Only then will we have a prosperous future for our country.”

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