International attitudes to science

Outside of science fiction, the arts-science divide is as wide as ever, but how exactly do the populations of various countries view science?

The European Community-wide 'Eurobarometer' survey of 11,500 Europeans in member states now allows international attitudes to science, engineering and technology (SET) to be compared (Science in Parliament vol. 53(3) pp31-34). The results do not support the idea that the British public has a particularly anti-science attitude compared to the rest of the EC (see table). An incongruous finding when one considers that the UK support of EC science ventures (such as the European Space Agency) is not proportionally the same to its Gross Domestic Product (the sum of the nation's wage packets) compared to most other EC states.

However when attitudes in Europe are compared to those in the USA, differences emerge. There is stronger support for SET in the rebel colonies and a greater faith in its positive benefits than on average in Europe. 76% of Americans think that science benefits more than it harms compared to 46% for Europeans and 42% for the UK. This might be explained by the USA having 9% of its work force employed as SET professionals compared to 7% in Germany and France, 3% in the UK , and 1% in Spain and Sweden.

Of concern are the factors deterring British school leavers from entering science. SET subjects are perceived as being: too impersonal and abstract; too heavy and sterile; seen only as for the most able; similar to media parodies of scientists; without governmental support; the cause of problems (eg. environmental concerns); and poorly paid. There is much to support these perceptions. Despite maintaining the Science Budget in real terms over a decade, governmental spending on science has decline by about a third (the UK Science Budget is in fact a technical term for Government spend through its research councils only, and not through Governmental Departments such as for agriculture, health and education). British scientists earn on average two thirds that of medical practitioners, and markedly less than solicitors and certified accountants. Within science the top salaries go to those in the computer sciences who earn 60% more than the lowest paid who are biologists. Chemists earn about 20% more than biologists, and physicists over 35% more.

Of course gripes are one thing, but only if backed up by science delivering wealth creation. A related survey of 350 British companies now shows this. Companies employing qualified scientists generally:

The Science in Parliament article concludes "novel means of furthering public involvement in scientific issues... may also have a role". There is perhaps hope yet for Concatenation.

Public Attitudes to Science, Engineering and Technology. UK vs EC


Strongly Disagree %

Disagree %

Neutral %

Agree %

Strongly Agree %

SET makes life easier, healthier, and more comfortable

UK 21

EC 3









SET research cannot be important in conserving the environment

UK 26.7

EC 35









SET research does not play an important role in industrial development

UK 34.1

EC 42.6









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