Is the world united in a singular view of science? It’s complicated...
All over the world, people are intrigued by the idea of science. They recognize and appreciate how science impacts the world on a global scale, and 90 percent say that when they hear the word “science” they feel hopeful versus discouraged (10 percent). But when you dig a little deeper, a more complex story emerges: 38 percent say their lives would not be much different if science didn’t exist, and about a third fall into the science skeptics camp.
We asked Americans who they would rather have dinner and a conversation with: Bill Gates, or Taylor Swift? 72 percent chose Bill Gates. And in fact, responses from all countries show that globally, scientists have a slight edge over pop culture icons. 32 percent chose a scientist only, while 27 percent chose a pop culture icon only. Which begs the question, have scientists broken through to celebrity status? We’re in an era where a retired inventor intrigues more Americans than a modern pop icon.
Consciousness about “science” and how it impacts the world, is invisible to too many. Nearly four out of 10 (38 percent) people think everyday life wouldn’t be much different if science didn’t exist at all. That’s close to half the population. Less than a quarter believe science has a “completely positive” impact on their everyday lives (22 percent) today. And 66 percent think about the impact of science on their everyday lives only “a little to never”.
87 percent of people around the world are fascinated by science rather than bored. Initially, this was encouraging news. As we probed further though, we found that a third (32 percent) are skeptical of science. Negative perceptions and indifference to science among skeptics rippled throughout the survey. For example, 77 percent of skeptics believe science causes just as many problems as solutions, compared to non-skeptics (47 percent). And science skeptics (60 percent) are much more likely to believe that life wouldn’t be much different if science didn’t exist (versus 27 percent of non-skeptics).
In spite of the universal advantages it affords us—like safety, convenience and interconnectivity—the science we experience in our daily lives is so ubiquitous that we tune it out. While 63 percent recognize science as being “very important” to society, only 46 percent consider science to be “very important” to their own everyday lives. The number shrinks even more among females (only 42 percent think science is very important to their everyday lives vs. 50 percent of males). And, in developed countries, even fewer people consider science to be very important to everyday life, at just 37 percent (compared to 56 percent in emerging countries).
Have you ever heard a friend say they wish they’d chosen a different career? It turns out most (54 percent) of the global adult population don’t regret pursuing a non-science career. Conversely, that means nearly half of us wish we had pursued a career in science. When it comes to the next generation though, adults are aligned: 82 percent say they would “encourage kids to pursue a career in science”. Why? Adults may be placing responsibility for solving future problems on the next generation; or, perhaps they view a career in science as a smart choice that brings increased stability and economic security to the next generation. Either way, the next generation acts as a unifier when it comes to science sentiment across the globe, regardless of whether they are a science supporter or a science skeptic.
When it comes to the future of science, optimism reigns supreme. 66 percent of adults describe tomorrow’s scientific impact on society as “exciting” and 62 percent believe the best days of science lie ahead. Many of us believe in seemingly mythical innovations, such as flying cars or undersea living. Young adults (18-34) are particularly convinced: almost six in ten (58 percent) believe flying cars will happen in their lifetime, versus 51 percent across the survey population.
Insights from the State of Science Index leads 3M to the conclusion that while attitudes to and feelings about science are complex, science needs a champion. While 87 percent of adults claim to be fascinated by science rather than bored, the study reveals staggering skepticism and indifference to science around the world too.
3M hopes the State of Science Index will provoke a national conversation about science and its important role in the world. We think there’s an opportunity for all of us in the science community to inspire people to be more conscious of the science around them, and to connect the dots between science and the impact it has on their everyday life. To that end, we’ve convened some of the brightest minds in the field for a podcast series discussing issues related to global perception of science.
“Insights from this data paint a compelling picture of the perceptions of science around the world,” said Jayshree Seth, a Corporate Scientist and Chief Science Advocate (CSA) at 3M. “We don’t have all the answers, but the first step is to understand feelings toward science. The next step is to give this original research to the public to help identify more trends. I’m humbled to be named 3M’s CSA and look forward to hearing what people think of the State of Science Index.”
We hope this information inspires recognition of how the image, impact and expectations of science are perceived across the world. We invite enthusiasts to use these insights to talk about the gaps we in the science community need to fill, and to do your bit toward championing science.
Discover a few of the most interesting things we learned from the State of Science Index survey explorer.
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