A recent survey conducted on behalf of the Ontario Science Centre found that 43 per cent of Canadians think science and scientific results are “a matter of opinion,” a result which speaks to a public lack of understanding about the way science works and about the influence of the Internet, social media and the phenomenon known as fake news on current public consciousness.
The survey conducted last month by the Leger polling firm asked 1,514 Canadians their thoughts on a variety of subjects including climate change, vaccinations and the state of science education today. In aid of Science Literacy week held in September, the survey found that while 85 per cent of Canadians said that they understood the basic scientific premises surrounding global warming and climate change, two in five respondents (40 per cent) believe that the science on the issue (one upon which the worldwide scientific community is vastly in consensus) is still unclear.
On the issue of vaccinations, while 89 per cent of those polled said they understood the basic science behind the procedure, one in five (19 per cent) stated their belief that there is a potential link between vaccinations and autism (that connection has been thoroughly discredited by multiple scientific studies).
“This survey shows that we can do better in science literacy and reinforces the need for lifelong science education,” says Dr. Maurice Bitran, CEO and Chief Science Officer for the Ontario Science Centre, in a press release.
“To make informed decisions as parents, consumers, employees and voters, science literacy is crucial,” said Bitran. “Science is always changing, which emphasizes the importance of lifelong learning to help us understand the complex issues we face every day.”
The survey further made plain the impact that contemporary news and communication technology is having on our perceptions of science and objective truth, as nearly one-third of those surveyed (31 per cent) said that they don’t understand, believe in or trust science results as they’re reported in the news. A full 79 per cent said that they are concerned about the rise in “fake news,” those circulated fictions dressed up on the Internet and social media sites to look like they’ve come from reputable sources, and see it as potentially damaging to the public perception of science.
But the results are not all bad, as while a significant number of Canadians (33 per cent) admitted to being scientifically illiterate, roughly defined as the ability to understand basic scientific concepts (laws of physics, for example) and theories and to employ them in one’s day-to-day thinking and acting, a further 82 per cent of Canadians want to know more about science and how it affects our lives and our world.
And that’s where institutions such as the Science Centre come in, says Bitran. “In today’s climate, science centres play an important role as places to learn about, and discuss, science; they help visitors make sense of the world around them,” said Bitran. “At the Ontario Science Centre, we provide a trusted, relevant, modern voice on scientific issues, offering real-world application of – and experience with – science.”