Ontario Science Centre survey reveals gap in public understanding of critical scientific issues


  • 40% of Canadians believe the science behind climate change is still unclear or unsettled
  • 19% of Canadians believe there is a potential link between vaccination and autism
  • 19% of Canadians rely on intuition rather than science to form their opinion on genetically modified organisms (GMOs)

TORONTO, Sept. 19, 2016 /CNW/ - Timed to coincide with Science Literacy Week 2016, a new survey from the Ontario Science Centre shows that although most Canadians are confident in their grasp of key scientific issues, there are significant gaps in their actual understanding of the science behind them. The survey, conducted by Leger, asked Canadians about their scientific knowledge of climate change, vaccinations and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The results show that being familiar with the science behind an issue does not necessarily equate to understanding.

"We live in a science-based society. Just about every aspect of our lives is connected to science –  our  health, economy, the way we work, live and learn –  all rely on science," said Dr. Maurice Bitran, CEO and Chief Science Officer, Ontario Science Centre. "This survey indicates that we should not be complacent about the state of science literacy in Canada."

Climate of confusion: 40% of Canadians believe science is unclear

Climate change is a highly charged topic hotly debated by politicians and industry. But in the scientific community, there is a substantial consensus on the factors that contribute to this global issue. While more than four in five Canadians (85%) claimed to understand the basic science behind climate change, two in five Canadians (40%) said they believe the science is unclear. Further, while nearly three-quarters of respondents (74%) stated that science informs their opinions on the issue, one-third of those same respondents (35%) believe the science is unclear.

"Although there is a near consensus in the scientific community that human activity contributes to climate change, public understanding of the issue and our collective actions to reduce our carbon footprint still fall short," said Bitran.

To engage the public in a dialogue about climate change and its impacts, the Ontario Science Centre will present Wild Weather from October 5, 2016 to January 7, 2017. This new interactive exhibition explores the power and unpredictability of extreme weather, allowing visitors to gain a better understanding of the science behind severe weather and its connection to climate change.

The missing connection: 19% of Canadians tie vaccinations to autism

The survey also found that while nine in 10 Canadians (89%) claim to understand the basic science behind vaccinations, one in five (19%) believe there is a potential link between vaccinations and autism, a connection that has been discredited by the scientific community . While the majority of Canadians (71%) claim to have formed their opinions on vaccinations based on science, one in five of these respondents (18%) believe vaccinations are linked to autism.

Food for thought: 19% of Canadians rely on intuition rather than science  to form opinions on genetically modified organisms (GMOs)

Among respondents, one in five Canadians (19%) said they rely on intuition rather than science when it comes to forming opinions about GMOs. Fewer than one in five Canadians (19%) agree that GMOs are good for their health, and nearly three in five Canadians (57%) disagree.

Science literacy requires a lifelong learning journey

"This survey shows that we can do better in science literacy and reinforces the need for lifelong science education. To make informed decisions as parents, consumers, employees and voters, science literacy is crucial", said Bitran. "Science is always changing, which emphasizes the importance of lifelong learning to help us understand the complex issues we face every day. At the Ontario Science Centre we foster a sense of wonder and discovery in our visitors because they set the foundation for ongoing curiosity, inquiry and critical thinking – regardless of age."

About the survey
The Ontario Science Centre survey was completed using Leger's online panel, Leger Web, with a representative sample of 1,578 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 50 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 19 – 25, 2016, 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.

Social Media Links
Facebook: www.Facebook.com/OntarioScienceCentre
Twitter: @OntScienceCtr
Instagram: @OntarioScienceCentre
YouTube: www.YouTube.com/user/OntarioScienceCentre
Hashtag: #scilit16

SOURCE Ontario Science Centre

For further information: Media contacts: Anna Relyea, Director, Strategic Communications, 416-696-3273 | c: 416-668-1967, Anna.Relyea@osc.on.ca; Marc Budgell, Consultant, Argyle Public Relationships, 416-968-7311 Ext. 240 mbudgell@argylepr.com


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