Public trust in science news is dangerously low, new Ontario Science Centre study reveals

Nearly half of Canadians believe science is a matter of opinion

Highlights

  • 79% of Canadians are concerned "fake news" is damaging the public perception of science
  • 82% of Canadians want to know more about science and how it affects our world
  • 33% of Canadians consider themselves science illiterate
  • 43% of Canadians believe that science is a matter of opinion

TORONTO, Sept. 18, 2017 /CNW/ - Canadians are hungry to learn about new science but their trust in science news has declined to alarming levels, according to the Ontario Science Centre's second annual Canadian science literacy survey. While Canadians understand the basics and have a desire to deepen their knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes, their mistrust in the way science is covered in the news has serious implications for society.

"This breakdown in trust has serious consequences for Canada because our future health, prosperity and security all depend on making important, sometimes difficult, decisions based on scientific findings," said Dr. Maurice Bitran, CEO and Chief Science Officer, Ontario Science Centre.  "If we don't trust the sources, or don't understand the information we are receiving, we can't make informed decisions. The findings of this 2017 survey demonstrate a vital role for authentic scientific voices in public education on critical issues that affect public policy and human health and wellbeing."

Conducted by Leger online between August 15th to 16th, 2017, and released during Science Literacy Week, the survey asked Canadians about their science literacy and where they obtain reliable scientific information.

Climate of mistrust and misinformation: 79% of Canadians are concerned that "fake news" is damaging public perception of science

Over the past year there has been a great deal of discussion of "fake news" – and it's clear that Canadians are worried about the impact it will have on their understanding of science.

The survey found that eight in ten Canadians (79%) said they are concerned that "fake news" is damaging public perception of science. Further, nearly one in three Canadians (31%) don't understand, believe in or trust science reported in the news.

There is also concern that news media may lack the credibility to communicate scientific issues, with nearly seven in ten Canadians (68%) believing that science is reported selectively to support news media objectives and six in ten Canadians (59%) believing that science coverage is presented to support political positions.

Concern about Canadian science literacy: 33% of Canadians consider themselves science illiterate

Most Canadians feel they are capable of understanding scientific findings but one in three consider themselves science illiterate (33%) and feel they don't have the ability to follow science reports in the media (30%). Four in ten Canadians (43%) believe science is a matter of opinion, while three in four Canadians (75%) believe scientific findings can be used to support any position.

At a time when society needs to address urgent challenges through solutions rooted in science, these numbers raise concerns about Canadians' ability to engage meaningfully with the issues. Alarmingly, nearly half of Canadians (47%) believe the science behind global warming is unclear – up from 40% in 2016. Also cause for concern: belief in vaccinations linking to autism, a connection that has been discredited by the scientific community, is highest among millennials (24%).

Science education the antidote: 89% of Canadians trust science centres and museums for science-related information

So who do Canadians trust? Our schools, science centres and scientists. As trusted sources when it comes to explaining science, they could be the antidote to the epidemic of mistrust. Nearly nine out of ten Canadians say they trust science centres and museums (89%), scientists (88%), and educational institutions (87%) for their science-related information; eight in ten believe more funding should be devoted to science research and education (80%).

Appetite for knowledge: 82% of Canadians want to learn more

The good news is that Canadians want to learn more. Eight in ten Canadians (82%) want to know more about science and how it affects our world.

"In today's climate, science centres play an important role as places to learn about, and discuss, science; they help visitors make sense of the world around them," said Bitran.  "At the Ontario Science Centre, we provide a trusted, relevant, modern voice on scientific issues, offering real-world application of – and experience with – science."

About the survey
The Ontario Science Centre survey was completed using Leger's online panel, Leger Web, with a representative sample of 1,514 Canadians. A probability sample of the same size would yield a margin of error of ± 2.5%, 19 times out of 20.

About the Ontario Science Centre
The Ontario Science Centre has welcomed more than 51 million visitors since it opened in 1969, implementing an interactive approach now adopted by science centres around the world. Today, the Science Centre is an international leader in free-choice science learning and a key contributor to Ontario's education and innovation ecosystems, offering lifelong learning through hands-on, engaging experiences. The Ontario Science Centre is an agency of the Government of Ontario funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. As a publicly assisted organization, the Science Centre relies on generous individuals, corporations and foundations who share a commitment to science and education for additional operating support. For more information about the Ontario Science Centre, please visit www.OntarioScienceCentre.ca.

About Science Literacy Week
Science Literacy Week is an annual week-long celebration of science in Canada, highlighting outstanding scientists and science communicators from coast-to-coast. This nationwide celebration showcases the excellence and diversity of Canadian science and demonstrates how exciting science is. From September 18 – 24, 2017, libraries, universities, museums and other partners host a spectacular nationwide festival of science, offering something for everyone. For more information, please visit www.ScienceLiteracy.ca.

By the Numbers

How do Canadians see science in the news?
95% understand that scientific findings can change when new research is available
81% believe that science is based on objective facts
81% believe scientific findings are objective facts
79% believe "fake news" will have a negative impact on public perception of scientific inquiry and discovery
75% believe science can be used to support any position
68% believe scientific issues are reported selectively to support media objectives
68% are concerned about "fake news" affecting their knowledge of the world
66% are concerned about "fake news" affecting their knowledge of science
59% believe scientific news is presented to support a political position
47% believe the science of global warming is still unclear
44% believe science coverage is fair and unbiased
43% see scientific findings as a matter of opinion
33% consider themselves science illiterate (30% of men, 43% of women)
31% believe science can't be trusted since it always subject to change
30% don't have the ability to follow science reports in the media

Who do Canadians trust?
89% Museums and Science Centres
88% Scientists and professors
87% Educational institutions
80% Family and friends
57% Journalists
43% Government (31% in Quebec)
25% Word of mouth
20% Social media

Social Media Links
Facebook: www.Facebook.com/OntarioScienceCentre
Twitter: @OntScienceCtr
Instagram: @OntarioScienceCentre
YouTube: www.YouTube.com/user/OntarioScienceCentre
Hashtag
: #SciLit17

SOURCE Ontario Science Centre

For further information: Media Contacts: Anna Relyea, Director, Strategic Communications, Ontario Science Centre, 416-696-3273, c: 416-668-1967, Anna.Relyea@osc.on.ca; Shirven Rezvany, Coordinator, Argyle Public Relationships, 416-968-7311 Ext. 266, srezvany@argylepr.com

RELATED LINKS
https://www.ontariosciencecentre.ca

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