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Public Attitudes to Science 2011

Published:2 May 2011
Fieldwork:11 October - 19 December 2010
Source:Ipsos MORI / Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
Keywords:Business, Innovation, PAS, Public dialogue, Science, Skills, Technology
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Public Attitudes to Science 2011

Public Attitudes to Science (PAS) 2011 is the fourth in a series of studies looking at the UK public’s attitudes to science, scientists and science policy, building on previous research in 2000, 2005 and 2008. Ipsos MORI, in association with the British Science Association (BSA), conducted this latest study on behalf of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

The research provides further evidence that the UK public values science and is interested in finding out about it:

  • Four-fifths (79%) agree that, “on the whole, science will make our lives easier” and over half (54%) agree that “the benefits of science are greater than any harmful effect”.
  • Four-fifths (82%) agree that “science is such a big part of our lives that we should all take an interest” and two-thirds (67%) think “it is important to know about science in my daily life”.
  • There is an appetite for hearing more about science, with half (51%) saying they hear and see too little information about science.

 

That is not to say people do not have concerns about science. Many are still concerned about what scientists choose to do “behind closed doors”, and the extent to which they consider the consequences of their work. More generally, the speed of development in science and a sense of science going against nature still worry many people. The extent of these concerns is topic dependent, with the survey indicating that, among the various topics explored, GM crops, nuclear power and animal experimentation are particularly contentious.

The research also highlights the challenge of public engagement with science. Fewer people say they feel informed about science, and scientific research and developments (43%) than say they do not (56%). In addition, while many are keen for the public to be involved in decision-making on science issues, most do not want to be personally involved.

As David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science notes:

“Since becoming Science Minister, I have been particularly struck by the way people react to scientific issues. The complexity of their attitudes is vividly illustrated in this study, which has used a broad methodological approach to get to the heart of how people feel about science, how they engage with it, the trust they place in it, and the role which it plays in their lives and careers. The results show that attitudes to science are not simple or one-dimensional, but subject to nuances including age and personal circumstances.”

Data and Reports

Technical Details

PAS 2011 used a mixed methodology approach broken into three stages:
  • Stage one consisted of a review of the existing literature on attitudes to science in the UK and internationally.
  • Stage two consisted of four sets of deliberative workshops with members of the general public, and a survey of 2,103 UK (Great Britain and Northern Ireland) adults aged 16+. Survey respondents were interviewed face-to-face, in-home from 11 October to 19 December 2010.
  • Stage three involved a cluster analysis of the survey data, followed by four discussion groups with members of the public to explore the emerging clusters qualitatively.
Reports, topline results, computer tables and the SPSS data file were updated on 23 March 2012 to correct for an issue with the age banding in the original data.  As a result, there are some minor differences in figures compared to previous versions.
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