Science, Society: mapping public understanding
of scientific knowledge
The scientific knowledge of UK citizens is
‘patchy’, but increased media coverage is not
the answer, finds a new report.
The UK’s Economic and Social Research
Council (ESRC) has just released a report on public knowledge
and media coverage of three scientific areas – human
genetics, climate change and the combined measles-mumps-rubella
“Overall, public understanding of these three issues
was patchy,” the report entitled ‘Towards a better
map: Science, the public and the media' concluded. It noted
that the average score on the general knowledge test it carried
out twice last year was just 38%.
Despite this generally low level of scientific knowledge,
60% of the 1 000 respondents who took part knew that stem
cell research aimed to create cells for treating disease.
Almost half recognised the mapping of the human genome as
a recent breakthrough in the life sciences.
A slim majority of interviewees had a positive perception
of recent evolutions in genetic science – 42% believed
the latest developments were encouraging, while 33% thought
they were worrying.
People’s perception of what they knew did not appear
to match reality. Although 68% of those canvassed felt their
knowledge of genetics was relatively weak compared with the
other two areas, their actual knowledge of the three areas
was roughly the same.
More engagement not information
Although the European Union and many Member State governments
have been engaged in initiatives to promote more and better
coverage of science in the media, the report suggests that
the way forward is greater public engagement in scientific
“We find little evidence to support the idea that the
presence of more science, scientists and science specialists
in the media will increase the public understanding of science,”
the report asserts. “What matters here … is not
so much the science itself, but establishing clear connections
between science, policy and the broader public interest.”
The EU is pushing ahead with efforts to involve its citizens
more directly in the research agenda. Earlier this month,
the European Commission invited NGOs, researchers and government
representative to a conference in Brussels to exchange views
on the role of civil society in the governance of the European
Source: EU and external
press release on report
a better map: Science, the public and the media' [
of the European Research Area: the role of civil society’