November saw the publication of the European Commission’s Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI), Science and Technology Special Eurobarometer. A summary is free to download here.
The summary follows on from that of 2010, in addressing European citizens’ general attitudes towards science and technology, and aims to inform the Commission regarding delivery of the Europe 2020 growth strategy, in particular the innovation union initiative.
The summary is divided into 7 sections with the findings presented in graph format. Each graph represents answers to a single, simply worded question, with each of the EU countries’ answers represented individually. The graphs are easy to understand and followed by a written summary.
The sections and sub sections are as follows:
Engagement with science and technology
1. Level of information regarding science and technology
2. Level of interest in science and technology
3. Proximity to science and technology
4. Sources of information about scientific and technological developments
5. Public involvement desired in decision-making process about science and
6. The best qualified people involved to explain the impact of science and
technology on society
The impact of science and technology on society
1. Overall influence of science and technology on national society
2. Efforts to behave responsibly towards society of different group of people
or organizations in their science and technology related activities
Attitudes towards science and technology
1. The impact of science and technology on quality of life
2. Science and faith
3. The impact of science and technology on the future
4. Reservations concerning science and technology
Ethics and science
Impact of scientific applications on human rights
Scientific research versus ethics
The role of the EU in addressing ethical issues of science
Training on scientific research ethics
Transparency regarding scientific research funding
Young people and science
1. The role of the national governments in stimulating young people’s
interest for science
2. Benefits of science education on young people
3. The importance of scientific education in stimulating young people’s
Gender issues and science
1. The importance of taking into account equally women’s and men’s needs
in scientific research
The final section Open access to research results simply asks the question of whether public funded research should be freely available online.
In total more than 27.500 people responded, and the views presented are quite divergent. With 30 pages of data presented in graph form the entire summary can be read in 15 minutes.
The release of this document has caused some debate within the community working within Responsible Innovation initiatives, and it highlights many of the issues that have been recently debated on this and other websites.
The data presented offers a great deal of food for thought regarding many of the topics raised during the panel sessions at the recent S.NET meeting, outlined here by Jonathan Hankins in his post. Variation of attitudes within the EU is vast, bringing the historical and cultural significance of research development to the fore, and laying bare the problems faced when thinking about Europe wide legislation and regulation.
The following comments were made by Hilary Sutcliffe of Matter in a recent public email discussion, and are aimed at provoking debate. She is a specialist in science and society and public involvement with research and innovation, and has working knowledge of European Commission approaches to research, so her comments are well informed and thought provoking.
The most common response is that citizens should be consulted and their opinions considered (39%). Three in ten (31%) think that citizens should only be informed, while 12% think citizens should participate and have an active role in decision-making. Around one in twenty thinks that citizens do not need to be involved or informed (6%), while 4% think that citizens’ opinions should be binding. It is Interesting to see that the Eastern European states tend more towards the line that public dialogue is not required.
Who is trusted
Scientists in Universities and companies are still seen as the best qualified to explain science, with an increase shown on findings from 2010.
Impact on society
Science and Technology are seen as having an overwhelmingly positive impact on society.
Who makes an effort to be responsible
Although we must be unsure of the methodology on the question about who makes an effort to behave responsibly towards society, university scientists do reasonably well (66%) behind environmental NGOs, (in the 80%s). Governments are behind however with only 44% of people thinking they ‘try to behave responsibly towards society by paying attention to the impact of the science and technology related activities!’
What science and technology can do for future generations
Three quarters of respondents agree that science and technology provide more opportunities for future generations, while only 7% disagree. These results are almost identical to those from the last wave of studies. Europeans are less sure about the possibility of missing out on progress by placing too much importance on risks that are not fully understood. Almost six out of ten (57%) agree that this is a possibility, while 14% disagree. The proportion that agrees has increased by 5 percentage points since the last wave, while disagreement has declined by 4 points. It is interesting that Denmark and France are most likely to agree with the statement ‘if we attach too much importance to risks that are not yet fully understood, we could miss out on technological progress’.
Reservations about science and technology
There are still reservations about sci moving too fast, with the possibility of being used by terrorists and of unforeseen side effects. I would however be interested to know what those statistics would be had they not been primed by the questions.
These seem odd questions and responses to me. For example half of all respondents saying science and technology may threaten human rights or over half saying something shouldn’t be allowed if it violates fundamental rights or moral principles. But most respondents agree that respecting ethics and rights guarantees that scientific research and technological innovations will meet citizens’ expectations (70%).
Sutcliffe concludes however that “The report however contains very little about expectations on business, which is a pity”.
The Bassetti Foundation would like to that Hilary Sutcliffe of Matter for her comments and time given during the preparation of this post.
(photo: Science! photo by Andrew Huff from Flickr)