Public trust in science buoys ahead of National Science Week

Brandon How

An annual survey launched as part of National Science Week has found that Australians have retained a strong trust in science and scientists.

The report by American conglomerate 3M received more than 1,000 responses in early 2022, found that 88 per cent of Australians have a “very high level of trust in science” in 2022. With 78 per cent of Australians believing there would be negative consequences if people do not value science.

3M’s State of Science Index measures public attitudes to science in 17 countries. Australia was first included in 3M’s global survey last year.

It was released at an event run by Science and Technology Australia on Thursday, where Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic officially launched National Science Week. National Science Week runs from August 13 to 21, but many events are available to attend throughout the month.

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National Science Week will feature in-person and online events, virtual tours, DIY science, and more across Australia. Events include free movie screenings, art exhibitions, and workshops. There are 168 discovery centres in Australia, across all states and territories, for families to visit and participate in the week’s activities.

An annual funding round awarded 35 grants between $2000 and $20,000 in March to support projects being run during National Science Week. In May, the Australian Science Teachers Association’s annual $100,000 funding round awarded 226 grants of up to $500 to help schools run National Science Week activities.

Increasing support for Women in the STEM workforce is also of great concern to Australians with 83 per cent believing “women are a source of untapped potential in the STEM workforce”, according to the report. It also found that 61 per cent of Australians believe that “women are leaving STEM job positions because they do not receive enough support”.

Science and Technology Australia chief executive officer Misha Schubert said that Australians appreciate the importance of science.

“Science has saved us time and again during the COVID-19 pandemic – and Australians appreciate science’s key role to help us tackle major threats including climate change, which is causing more frequent terrifying extreme weather like floods, cyclones, megafires, droughts, and heatwaves,” Ms Schubert said.

However, there has been an increase in scepticism in science from 25 per cent in 2021 to 32 per cent in 2022. When reading scientific information, 71 per cent of Australians trust traditional media while only 35 per cent of trust social media.

There are also 78 per cent of Australians that say they want to hear more from scientists about their work. Ms Schubert said the voices of scientists are important given the spread of misinformation online.

“We live in an era of general wariness and distrust of information – especially on social media – which is feeding into a rising tide of concern about social media misinformation that risks fuelling public scepticism in science unless we all act to safeguard it,” Ms Schubert said.

“It’s more important than ever that we all help Australians to find credible, accurate and verified sources of scientific facts from reputable science experts, which highlights the hugely important role of trusted science organisations to share science with the public.”

3M Australia and New Zealand similarly acknowledged that Australians see the value of science and said it was important for science communities, including Science and Technology Australia, to provide transparency and clearly communicated solutions.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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