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Many Canadians are less informed than they think on science issues, finds new survey

Canadians are less informed

A new survey from the Ontario Science Centre shows that when it comes to their understanding of key social issues and the science behind them, many Canadians are less informed than they think.

The survey, conducted by Léger Marketing, found that while a majority of Canadians claimed that they understood the basic science behind issues such as climate change, vaccinations and genetically modified foods, their responses told a different story.

Concerning vaccinations, 89 per cent of those surveyed stated that they understood the science behind vaccinations yet almost one in five (19 per cent) believed there to be a potential link between vaccinations and autism, despite the fact that such an association has not been proven scientifically and previous attempts to assert a link have been discredited.

On global warming and climate change, 85 per cent of Canadians said they understood the science behind the phenomenon yet a full 40 per cent said they believed that the science on the issue is still unclear, despite overwhelming and established evidence to the contrary.

“Although there is a near consensus in the scientific community that human activity contributes to climate change, public understanding of the issue and our collective actions to reduce our carbon footprint still fall short,” says Dr. Maurice Bitran, CEO and Chief Science Officer with the Ontario Science Centre.

And on the topic of genetically modified foods or GMOs, the survey found that 19 per cent of Canadians said that they rely on intuition rather than science to inform their opinion.

The results are concerning, says Bitran.

“We live in a science-based society. Just about every aspect of our lives is connected to science – our  health, economy, the way we work, live and learn –all rely on science. This survey indicates that we should not be complacent about the state of science literacy in Canada,” says Bitran.

The findings stand in marked contrast to those from a 2014 study which compared Canadians’ scores from a basic scientific literacy test to those from other countries and found that, in fact, Canadians came out first among 35 countries where similar data sets were available. The quiz asked basic questions such as, “Does the sun go around the earth or does the earth go around the sun?” and Electrons are smaller than atoms – true or false?” and revealed a substantial improvement in Canadians’ scientific literacy since the issue was last charted in 1989.

It’s possible that the discrepancy between the two reports may have less to do with scientific literacy -a measure of the ability to understand scientific information -and more to do with assimilation bias, that well-studied tendency where people interpret new information in ways that align with previously-held beliefs and values. Climate change, vaccinations and GMO foods are among the touchstone issues of today’s society. Thus, often deeply held beliefs on overarching themes such as individual rights, the proper role of state and the reach of big business, for example, may play a part in determining whether individuals are likely to accept a given piece of information as true, partially true or false.

The new survey comes out at the start of Scientific Literacy Week at the Ontario Science Centre, a nationwide promotion of science and the contributions of Canadian scientists and science communicators.

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About The Author /

Jayson is a writer, researcher and educator with a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa. His interests range from bioethics and innovations in the health sciences to governance, social justice and the history of ideas.
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  1. The previous years with the conservatives anD Steven Harper have done a great job of dumbing down the population. The questions about climate change, vaccinations and GMO’s the cons took a how do I feel approach to these questions as opposed to science. Why wade through scientific speak when you can “feel” disproving years of scientific research.
    See it works and after just 8 years of ignoring facts and science. .

  2. Human caused global warming does not exist, GMO food is bad, vaccines do cause autism, so your survey just proved that more Canadians are finally becoming aware of the truth. This article is sheer government propaganda.

  3. I’m ready to blame the way we handled the twentieth century. I went to school in the nineties when political correctness had just started strangling Canada. We were essentially indoctrinated into a capitalist cult. I would say that as far as social studies and the like went most of what we were taught about Canada is untrue.
    What bothers me more than anything is our pride as Canadians. I was told as a child that canada might be the best place to live in the world. This was close. its the easiest place to exist but living means we should be growing and im not sure we are. I was told we have some of the smartest citizens. Im certain that cant be right.
    There is still as far as i can tell blatant racism.(toward islam and idigenous peoples) This is not to mention the rampant fear mongering in misinformation spread online. So ya i can easily see how no one bothers to try and understand scientific issues.
    What seems more likely to you? we have just gotten dumb since 1989 or we spent our money in the 1900s patting ourselves on the back and buying fancy things on credit like an irresponsible teenager?

  4. “GMO” – how do you tell from “science” whether will be good end result or deadly new invasive species plague? How do you test in a lab what you get in 50 years?

  5. I dont think its possible to really determine whats going on with the planet’s climate except thats its alway changing and that man may be partial responsible. But to continue to go crazy about CO2 emissions has really hurt the environment movement as whole because really these groups have to make man-made warming sound as terrible as possible so they can get more money from governement grants. And that has been proven.
    GMO food is as healhty as organic food. GMO crops are design to more resistant to diseases and droughts.
    Vaccines are probably responsible for saving billions of lives from death and/or misery.

  6. We don’t. The fact is though we have been growing selectively bread GMOs since agriculture started and someone realized quinoa sucks.
    Studies on this issue are wildly inflamed because of short-sighted liberal fanatics on one side of the debate and all those billions of dollars on the other. This makes it impossible to have comprehensive research on things like genentic diversity over space and effects of new strains of plants over time.
    By all accounts though round up ready crops seem safe for eating.

  7. “yet almost one in five (19 per cent) believed there to be a potential link between vaccinations and autism, despite the fact that such an association has not been proven scientifically” – difference between something “proven” and “potential”.
    The one in 5 might feel that the billions of dollars made by those creating vaccinations results in a conspiracy of tampering with results. 50 years ago the sugar industry tampered with results of health care studies on heart attacks to blame only fat and not sugar.
    It does by itself not prove a lack of science understanding for one group to have less faith than others on a group of experts.

  8. Everyone is assuming that current scientific thinking is correct and all other thinking is incorrect. History has proven that current scientific thinking is almost always incorrect and eventually it changes it mind but not easily. Do vaccines cause autism ,well I do not know but I certainly am not convinced that the vested interests are really looking for the truth. Vaccines work but not without risks and are we sure certain batches were not messed up. Heck lettuce can kill you if mishandled.

  9. if i remember my logical self defense right thats called creating a straw man. i.e. making an idea attributing it to your adversary and then selling it to your audience.
    If we want to hold our corporations to an actual meter of justice then we need to stop arguing like children and take their infinite money away so they cant buy us all out from under eachother.

  10. Youre making an unfair comparison here. Its insanity to say that you can make decisions based on the fact that people are usually eventually proven wrong. One decision happens in your lifetime the other realized at some point not related to your life at all.
    Youre probably right about bias interest though. I dont trust billionaire either.

  11. Straw man imo does not fit. You can look up Carl Sagan’s baloney detector kit for full explanation of many of flawed arguments.
    If a group of people is shown to be possibly corruptible then you can make possibly valid argument that perhaps corruptible in future.
    Not hard to show that sugar industry rigged studies. Not hard to show that end result was potential for possibly millions dying of heart attacks. So common “scientific method” has been shown to be corruptible.
    I personally don’t think vaccinations cause autism, but I can see chance for small potential. IMO the big risk of vaccinations is allergies…. 100 years ago the pioneers of vaccinations openly talked about the risk and how lesser of two evils. Allergies are way up compared to historical levels, roughly matching increase in immunization shots.
    Immunization shots tend to carry adjutants that boost generic immune reaction…. boosting generic immune reaction might cause allergies. 100 years ago we didn’t have such large classes of people who could get deadly ill from just a bit of peanut butter, eggs, fish, milk, etc.
    There is very little money to be made showing if link between immune shots and allergies.
    IMO it is better similar to genetic diversity if you have a class of people who do are different, so you can compare end results 50 years later with less effort, if a few people do not take any immune shots we can see if they have fewer or more allergies, etc.

  12. “The fact is though we have been growing selectively bread GMOs since agriculture started” – dna manipulation has not been done since recently.
    Genetically modified is not about breeding but about gene splicing from one organism to another. End results may be unexpected.
    For example, if you breed a plant to make it’s own pesticide, it may end up killing pollinators like bees. Or if you achieve the “holy grail” of genetic manipulation and create a yeast that can eat cellulose and produce “green fuel” alcohol cheaply, that yeast may become an unwanted plague mutating in wild, wiping out crops.
    “The Africanized honey bee was first introduced to Brazil in the 1950s in an effort to increase honey production; but, in 1957, 26 swarms accidentally escaped quarantine.” wikipedia – example of unexpected with simply selective breeding rather than gene splicing from a completely different organism.

  13. Reminding everyone about how killer bee’s came about with the good intentions and all. So short sighted.

  14. IMO “climate change” helps show what is wrong with “science”… the north of canada is really cold. Yet when it warms up, we hear more about the harm than the benefits, 100x as many animals may prosper but you don’t hear about them as much as the polar bear and caribou.
    I know of someone in edmonton, canada who raises caribou, so some can survive (with help?) in warmer climate.
    We have had study that claimed food production would go down with global warming. Why? Exact same wheat crop matures in 4 months rather than 5 months with less yield. True… but you grow a different crop to match a different climate, you grow 2 crops rather than 1 at times. IMO study was either deliberate fraud or extreme incompetence yet was not called out, I personally would expect very large fine and/or jail if I did similar quality of study in support of my publicly traded company on stock exchange by securities commission.

  15. You hear about animals that may go extinct, using flawed logic/statistics. If you have barren desert then only a few animals can barely survive. If you add rain then much more life can thrive. Most people would think a desert turning into oasis of life was a good thing. But by logic of climate change, would be horrible, because a cactus and desert mouse might go extinct.

  16. If you use logic that rapid change must be bad, then rapid progress in science must be bad. Game of counting problems and not also gains.
    Within 50 or 100 years much of life on earth could be destroyed by nuclear weapons, biological weapons or biological accident (due to gene splicing). Yet we pump lots of money into fusion reactor and genetic engineering research.
    The tech for a fusion reactor could be many times easier applied to making a hybrid reactor with a shell of depleted uranium and then with well known PUREX process bomb grade plutonium could be harvested. (Depleted uranium can boost energy yield by 10x+)

  17. Was just pointing out that current science is very often wrong and historically has been proven to be almost always wrong. Also science has a huge political bias were the current thinking is not easily pushed aside. Calling people out to lunch because they do not agree with current scientific thinking is just a bully tactic. Saying it is insanity to doubt them is also on the bully scale. If you can not trust the billionares how can you so easily trust their minions

  18. Global warming…
    Google “Azolla event”, and “PETM”.
    Google “iron fertilization of oceans”, “Haida Gwaii ocean fertilizing experiment”. Ask yourself why we spend so much money measuring “global warming” and yet so little on small controlled experiments to test pro/cons of iron fertilization. Azolla event shows potential for change.
    IMO money is spent on “global warming science” for politic reasons more than for finding solution to problem.
    Wiser spending would be to test iron fertilization, test ways to make Terra Preta (sustainable agriculture in tropics), look evenly at both positives and negatives of change to a warmer climate, etc.

  19. Saying something is in your opinion is a flawed argument too but i cant remember what its called.Something like privileged position maybe?
    Carl Sagan isnt exactly current on the logic front either.

  20. Did Jayson MacLean calculate the values, or just regurgitate the numbers from a Leger press release?

  21. The bulk of GMO crops are designed to either a) resist being sprayed with a pesticide or b) are a registered insecticide that can also resist the pesticide spraying.

  22. There is no proof that RoundUp Ready crops are safe to eat. The biotech industry has not done the proper testing. Their own studies point to serious threats to health in animal studies but those results have been altered or hidden. See Steven Druker’s book: Altered Genes, Twisted Truth for more info on the fraud that went into approving GMOs and related pesticides in the first place. And, to selectively breed any type of plant is, obviously, quite different than the lab-based cut and paste of DNA fragments as is done in a GMO crop.

  23. I’m not trying to be funny but how do crops resist being sprayed? Do they put up their hands and yell stop? Or do they have some kind of protective coating that prevents the plant from absorbing chemicals?

  24. I think a growing number of people understand how science is being manipulated into $¢ien¢e and that the media has become nothing more than a middle school gossip and bully fest against dissenters.

  25. lol…I see the humour in my post, too. I should have expanded it to say ‘are resistant to the lethal effects of being sprayed with certain pesticides’.

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