European citizens trust science and associate it with progress

Scientists are, along with doctors, the professional group that arouses the greatest social trust in the majority of European citizens, who value objective, true and valid knowledge of science. This also helps to reduce fears and superstitions, it is closely associated with material progress, well-being and continuous improvement in health, as well as clarifying doubts about everything that surrounds us.

Europeans find it difficult for science to end inequality, wars or poverty

However, the impacts and intervention of science in nature, although globally perceived as positive, generate significant reserves. Social problems such as poverty, inequality and wars are considered difficult to solve only with the tools of science.

On the other hand, the world’s image of the origin of the universe and the evolution of human beings has largely displaced the narratives raised by religions.

These are some of the main results of the Scientific Culture in Europe study by the BBVA Foundation, carried out through a survey of representative samples of 1,500 cases per country of the population aged 18 years or over in Spain, Germany, France and the United Kingdom.

All countries have acquired at least a medium-high level of familiarity with scientific concepts, although some gaps suggest they are loose pieces with poor interconnection.

The results show that the majority of the population is interested in science and follows scientific information through a wide range of conventional and digital channels. Nearly half of the population has incorporated science into daily conversation and has achieved a medium-high degree of familiarity with concepts from a wide range of areas, if the studio suggests that the knowledge acquired is simple, with a weak connection between them.

scientific knowledge test

To measure the level of knowledge about scientific topics, a test was carried out on a series of 10 concepts that respondents should recognize as true or false. Most citizens seem to understand elementary scientific concepts about various phenomena such as cell division and the role of plants in oxygen production, the origin of the universe, the evolution of human beings.

Around half of Europeans are unaware of health, environment or genetic modification issues

On the contrary, the level of understanding of antibiotic indications, environmental issues such as the climate crisis and the hole in the ozone layer, genes and genetic modifications is weaker, being observed in only about half of the population.

89% identified as true the phrase “the oxygen we breathe comes from plants”; 84% in Spain and 78% in other countries identified the phrase “almost all microorganisms are harmful to humans” as false; and 59% in Spain and 64% in the rest of the countries recognized the statement “the cells of adult human beings generally do not divide” as false.

However, ignorance of other issues in the fields of health and the environment is also detected: only 43% in Spain and 50% in the other countries were able to identify the idea that “antibiotics destroy viruses” as false, and only 27% in Spain and 37% in the rest of the countries recognized the falsehood that “climate change is due to the hole in the ozone layer”.

Familiarity with the great scientists of all time

One facet of scientific literacy is familiarity with at least the names of some of the great scientists who contributed to pioneering and fundamental advances. The results of the survey show the dominant profile of scientists in the field of Physics, most notably Albert Einstein, far from everyone else, with Isaac Newton, Marie Curie, Galileo Galilei and Charles Darwin mentioned in decreasing order in almost all the countries.

Einstein, Newton, Curie, Galilei and Darwin: among the most renowned scientists

In two countries, the United Kingdom and Spain, Stephen Hawking also has a significant percentage of mentions, perhaps the scientist who has achieved the greatest media presence in recent decades.

Scientists linked to more recent contributions are generally recognized by a low percentage of the population, with the absence of significant mentions of monumental figures of the 20th century such as Max Planck, Niels Bohr, Francis Crick and James Watson being notable. In each country, national scientists are more relevant.

The figure of women in science continues to be silenced

Marie Curie is the only woman to achieve a high percentage of mentions in all four countries. In Germany, after Marie Curie, two more women appear, Maria Goeppert-Mayer (the second woman awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics) and the mathematician Emmy Noether. In the United Kingdom, in addition to Marie Curie, Ada Lovelace reaches a significant percentage of mentions.

In Spain, Severo Ochoa reaches 15% of mentions, while Santiago Ramón y Cajal does not exceed 7%, precisely at the end of 2022 declared as “Cajal Year” and in an area of ​​science as characteristic of the present as neuroscience and cognition Science .

Science as the “engine of material progress”

There is a broad consensus around the idea that science is “the engine of material progress”. Opinions are also favorable, although more divided, regarding the idea that science can provide an answer to all the major problems of the 21st century, with Spaniards standing out among the most convinced in this matter.

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A researcher working in a laboratory. /EFE/Andre Coelho

A large majority believes that “thanks to science, people’s health is continuously improving” and that through scientific knowledge “safe and effective vaccines against Covid have been achieved” and the majority are confident that “science and technology will solve the problem of climate changes .

Not only is the instrumental dimension of science highly valued, but also the cognitive and cultural dimension: “science reveals fascinating aspects of nature” scores an average of 7.3 in the four countries; “Science is the most reliable and true knowledge we have” obtained an average of 6.5; “Science has reduced the superstitions and fears of the past” reached 5.9 in the four countries and 6.5 in Spain.

Science and technology facing the great challenges of the 21st century

In all countries, and notably in Spain, a large majority believes that, in descending order, solar energy, biotechnology, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, Internet, space exploration, robotics and artificial intelligence will improve our lives, while nuclear energy and Big Data divides opinions.

Europeans rely on science in the face of cancer, pandemics and the development of renewable energy

Expectations are very positive regarding the contribution of science in the treatment of cancer, in extending years of life in good health and in facing pandemics such as covid. Its potential for obtaining clean and abundant energy sources is also very favorably valued.

Although more divisive, one can also see its potential to solve the challenge of anthropogenic climate change and, more moderately, food shortages.

Expectations are reversed when it comes to their contribution to solving social problems such as poverty and inequality (only 45% of Spaniards and 42% of all countries believe that they will contribute “a lot” or “enough”) and wars ( 36% in Spain and 32% in the countries as a whole), areas in which the sole (or main) resource to science is not perceived as significant.

Scientists, highly trusted professionals

Scientists are a highly trusted professional group, with almost no reservations in the adult population in all countries analysed. Other professional groups closely associated with science, such as physicians and engineers, also have the highest average confidence values ​​among the eleven professions considered.

The vast majority consider men and women equally capable of doing science

Consensus is very broad around the fact that women are as qualified as men for science (average 8.5 in Spain and 8.7 in the group of countries, on a scale of 0 to 10). There is also a consensus around the fundamental role of science and technology in the well-being of each country.

Science support and regulation

Most consider that research aimed at solving immediate practical needs should be funded (48% in all European countries, 44% in Spain) or spontaneously respond that this type of research should be funded, as well as research that advances knowledge (32% overall, 35% in Spain), compared to those who believe that only basic science should be funded (17% and 21% respectively).

Opinions about who should be in control of science divide Europe: society or scientists themselves?

Countries are divided over the control of scientific research. In the United Kingdom and Spain, the option is chosen for it to be controlled by the scientists themselves, in France opinions are divided, while in Germany the majority is in favor of this type of research being controlled by society.

Science, religion and ethics

Opinions are divided, between and within countries, regarding the harmonious coexistence of science and religion today. The Spaniards are the ones who perceive the greatest tension in this coexistence. But in all countries the idea clearly prevails that science does not destroy people’s religious beliefs.

Spaniards see greater tension in the coexistence of science and religion

Science’s view of the origin of the universe and the evolution of humans from earlier animal species is largely in the majority compared to the religious narratives that operate in other societies.

Thus, 79% in all countries and 90% of Spaniards believe that “human beings evolved from previous animal species”, compared to 18% in all countries and 9% of Spaniards who consider that “God created human beings more or less in its present format”. At the same time, 70% of citizens in all countries and 73% of Spaniards consider the idea that “the universe began with a big bang” to be true.

Most believe that ethics should impose limits on scientific advances (72% in all countries), a position that is mostly held in Germany (85%) and, by far, in Spain (57%).

When it comes to religion, there is clear consensus in all countries (84% on average) that it should not limit scientific advances.

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