A new Eurobarometer survey on ‘European citizens’ knowledge and attitudes towards science and technology’ released today shows that 9 in 10 EU citizens (86%) think that the overall influence of science and technology is positive. They expect a range of technologies currently under development to have a positive effect on our way of life in the next 20 years: notably, solar energy (92%), vaccines and combatting infectious diseases (86%) and artificial intelligence (61%).
Furthermore, results reveal a high level of interest in science and technology (82%) and a desire amongst citizens to learn more about it in places like town halls, museums and libraries (54%). In many areas, EU citizens’ interest in, expectations of, and engagement with science and technology have grown in recent years. Respondents most often mention health and medical care and the fight against climate change when asked in which areas research and innovation can make a difference. These results are in line with a growing interest in new medical discoveries, which grew from 82% to 86% since 2010.
Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel, said: “The overall positive attitude towards science and technology is reassuring as they are essential for responding to the coronavirus, climate change, biodiversity loss, and a host of other pressing challenges. At the same time, we need to respond to citizens’ concerns that the benefits of science and technology are not equally distributed, to pay more attention to gender dimensions in research content, and to explore how research and innovation can be conducted with higher involvement of the citizens and other stakeholders.”
The Eurobarometer survey also reveals challenges for research and innovation. Many EU citizens think that science and technology mostly helps improve the lives of those who are already better off (57%) and does not pay sufficient attention to differences between women’s and men’s needs (23%). More than half think that researchers in China (58%), the US (57%) and Japan (54%) are ahead of researchers in the EU in terms of making scientific discoveries. Levels of scientific knowledge also show wide divergences across different parts of society.
EU citizens have a positive view of scientists and their defining characteristics, such as intelligence (89%), reliability (68%) and being collaborative (66%). More than two-thirds (68%) believe that scientists should intervene in political debates to ensure that decisions take into account scientific evidence.
Most EU citizens get their information about developments in science and technology from television (63%), followed by online social networks and blogs (29%) and online or in-print newspapers (24%). A large majority (85%) believes that young people’s interest in science is essential for future prosperity. Additionally, the majority thinks that involving non-scientists in research and innovation ensures that science and technology respond to the needs and values of society (61%).
Almost three-quarters (72%) of respondents think that governments should ensure that new technologies benefit everyone, and more than three-quarters (79%) think that governments should make private companies tackle climate change.
The Eurobarometer survey published today is the largest one to date on science and technology in terms of number of participants (37,103 respondents) and countries surveyed (38 countries, including EU Member States, EU enlargement countries, EFTA states, and the United Kingdom). The survey was conducted between 13 April and 10 May 2021, primarily through face-to face interviews.
The engagement of citizens, local communities and civil society will be at the core of the new European Research Area to achieve greater societal impact and increased trust in science.
Horizon Europe, the new EU research and innovation programme (2021-2027), will reinforce interactions between science and society by promoting the co-creation of R&I agendas and by involving citizens and civil society directly in doing research and innovation. It will do so across the Programme and through dedicated activities, while monitoring citizens’ contributions and the uptake of R&I in society.
EU-wide surveys on science and technology stretch back four decades. Previous relevant Eurobarometer studies include Special Eurobarometer 401 (2013), Special Eurobarometers 340/341 (EB73.1), and Special Eurobarometers 224/225 (EB63.1).