Is science's bright future already behind it? To ask the question in this way is certainly overdramatic, if not inappropriate. The results of the latest Eurobarometer survey presented in this issue show that science continues to enjoy a large measure of confidence among Europeans. Given society's dependency on research and technological development, it is difficult to justify any reductions in investment and support for these activities.
Yet a number of findings should give pause for thought as they perhaps suggest darker days ahead.
First there is the fact that sciences are failing to attract young people. It is not so much their interest in scientific subjects or professions that is in question as the image of science studies per se. They are seen as too dry. Unlike previous generations, young people prefer to set their sights on other horizons.
Also worrying is the gap opening up between science and society. An astounding 45% of people interviewed see themselves as neither informed about nor interested in science. However, as always, surveys of this kind throw up their fair share of contradictions and paradoxes. For, at the same time, Europeans seem to have a good understanding of the importance - and opportunities - of science and, more surprisingly, of research policy (see the impressive approval rating for scientific co-operation and the coordination of research).
Finally, the results highlight the limits of information. When it comes to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), for example, opinions depend little on the level of knowledge or education of the persons interviewed. People are simply not convinced of the utility of GMOs.
In terms of scientific culture, the results of a short quiz show little change compared with 1992 which, depending on your point of view, can be greeted with relief or disappointment. Only one question - concerning dinosaurs - elicited a notable 10% increase in correct answers. This is no doubt a Jurassic Park effect, which shows just how much impact products for mass consumption can have on the image and knowledge of science. For better or for worse.