HOW THE 13 CANDIDATE COUNTRIES SEE SCIENCE Eurobarometer survey results
How do the 'new Europeans' see science? Do they feel they receive enough information about it and are they interested in it? Do they mistrust an increasingly 'technical' world? What do they think of links between research and ethics? These were all subjects of a Eurobarometer survey carried out in the candidate countries late last year. It followed a similar study conducted in the current 15 Member States in June 2001. This latest poll revealed some interesting similarities and differences.
First of all, what exactly do we mean by science? From one end of Europe to the other, whether in the Member States (EU) or the candidate countries (CC), the 'science' label is applied primarily to the so-called 'hard' disciplines and much less to the human sciences, although astrology enjoys surprising credibility (see Children of the Enlightenment).
People interviewed in the prospective Member States seem to be less interested in science than their peers in the current Member States (35% compared with 45%). They also feel quite poorly informed on the subject. The picture varies from country to country, however, and some candidate countries are in fact above the EU average: 58% of Cypriots, for example, say they are interested in scientific and technological issues, closely followed by the Hungarians (53%), the Maltese and the Slovenians (50%). But it is also the case that two-thirds of those interviewed admit they are poorly informed on these matters. Their relatively low level of knowledge does not, however, prevent interviewees in the candidate countries from having a more positive attitude to science and technology than those in the Union.
Science and health When we look at the importance assigned to the principal fields of science and technology which affect our everyday lives, (1) medicine scores highest everywhere (51% in the CC, 60% in the EU). Yet its renown seems to be rather subjective and it is evaluated 'more in terms of satisfaction with health services than its perception as a science'. Bulgaria, for example, 'does not have any particular regard for medicine'.
Generally speaking, women and elderly people exhibit the highest concern for health-related matters and young people for the Internet (52% of 15-24-year-olds compared with 9% of the over-55s). Respondents´ range of scientific interests broadens the higher their level of education. Candidate countries are notable for the fairly high score they award to the economic and social sciences (32% compared with 22% for the EU) and the lower regard for life sciences (17% as opposed to 22%).
Whatever the case, science scores well on usefulness: 81% of those interviewed in the candidate countries believe it makes our lives healthier, easier and more comfortable; 77% of them think it will succeed in curing illnesses such as cancer or Aids; and 75% hold that it will improve the lives of future generations. But – as in the present Member States – enthusiasm wanes when it comes to evaluating how science and technology could help eradicate poverty (41%) or improve the environment (44%).
Scientific culture Average result based on answers to the same questionnaire on fundamental scientific facts presented to survey participants in the candidate countries (CC) and the Member States (EU 15). Four countries – the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Hungary, Estonia – exhibit a general scientific knowledge which places them above the EU 15 average.
The rate of technological change Science changes our lives, but at what rate? Most interviewees (67%), and young men in particular, believe that science alters our lives too quickly. This sentiment varies somewhat depending on country and religious faith. It is felt by 56% of Romanians and Lithuanians, but by just 10% of Cypriots, Slovaks and Slovenians. Furthermore, 69% of those who practice a religion would prefer a more modest rate of change, as opposed to 61% among those who never frequent a place of worship. Interestingly, 52% of citizens in the candidate countries (45% in the EU) also believe that 'we base our lives too much on science and not enough on faith'. This nostalgia for a less materialistic culture is particularly prevalent in Malta and Cyprus (70%).
Science and young people Nearly 40% of interviewees in the candidate countries think that young people today are less interested in pursuing scientific studies and careers than they were in the past. However, the figures do not bear out this impression, and young people have an above average interest in science and technology. A significant percentage (26%) has no opinion on this subject, although this varies considerably from one country to another: 18% in Cyprus, 40% in Lithuania and 46% in the Czech Republic. The high figure for the latter two countries would suggest that the question is not at the heart of public debate. What is the reason for this – real or presumed – shunning of science? Whereas the main reason cited in the Union is the lack of attractiveness of science courses (60% compared with 52% in the candidate countries), the main reasons given in the future Member States are salaries and career prospects (52% compared with 43% in the EU).
Optimism regarding science (average of optimistic responses to a set of 12 questions – by country)
European area Most interviewees, in present and future Member States, believe that the Union will play an increasingly important role in research. In terms of scientific potential, many citizens in the candidate countries (59%) expect benefits from enlargement for their own countries and for present EU members. Some countries (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Romania and Slovenia) expect more benefits for the candidate countries than for the EU 15.
(1) Seven fields were proposed: medicine, the environment, the economic and social sciences, astronomy and space, genetics, and nanotechnologies.
As the leading source of scientific information (71% in the CC 13 and 60% in the EU 15), television does not have a 'bad press' among citizens in the candidate countries, who – irrespective of their education level - do not regard ...
Mad cow disease
The majority of people in the EU (74%) believe that the main culprit for BSE, or Mad Cow disease, is the food industry, compared with 51% in the candidate countries – while 59% in the Union point to the farmers compared with 41% in ...
EU countries are slightly more severe in their judgement of GMOs and are more clearly in favour (95% compared with 85%) of having the right to choose and to be better informed (86% as opposed to 80%). They believe that these foods should ...
As the leading source of scientific information (71% in the CC 13 and 60% in the EU 15), television does not have a 'bad press' among citizens in the candidate countries, who – irrespective of their education level - do not regard it as an ill-informed or superficial media. Nevertheless, some 'cultural exceptions' are evident, such as the high regard for newspapers and radio in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
Mad cow disease
The majority of people in the EU (74%) believe that the main culprit for BSE, or Mad Cow disease, is the food industry, compared with 51% in the candidate countries – while 59% in the Union point to the farmers compared with 41% in the future Member States. Politicians are singled out much more in the EU (69%) than in the candidate countries (40%). What is the lesson to be learned from the crisis? Nearly all interviewees in the Union and in the candidate countries (89%) think that scientists should keep us better informed of the risks involved in scientific and technical developments, and 82% believe that industry should be better regulated.
EU countries are slightly more severe in their judgement of GMOs and are more clearly in favour (95% compared with 85%) of having the right to choose and to be better informed (86% as opposed to 80%). They believe that these foods should only be introduced when science has proved they are safe (86% compared with 79%) and fear their effects on the environment (59% as opposed to 51%).