Us and science: it’s complicated

18 April 2018

There’s not many things you could get 90 per cent of Australians to agree upon, but when it comes to the positive impact of science, we’re almost all on the same page.

Ninety per cent of respondents to the Australian Beliefs and Attitudes Towards Science Survey said they think science has made life easier.

Dr Rod Lamberts from the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science at ANU conducted the survey and says it reveals that “overall, Australians are very pro-science.”

“Most of us think the benefits of science have outweighed the harmful effects and science has made our lives easier.

“Plus, as a society, we are generally quite highly engaged with science-related issues. The majority of people are having some kind of science-related conversations regularly.”

More than 90 per cent of people surveyed used technology at least a few times a week, and more than 80 per cent of people needed maths skills, and more than half used science skills in their jobs.

Despite these findings, Dr Lamberts says, the survey also showed “our attitudes to science and its outputs are far from straightforward.”

Despite valuing science, nearly half of the respondents said they felt it has changed our way of life too quickly.

"Many of us are also against genetically modified foods and food grown with pesticides, fracking and nuclear energy, and many people are also suspicious about the potential of bioengineering."

Dr Lamberts says he thinks this complicated relationship between Australians and science is “encouraging”.

“This is a good thing in a modern society. The fact that we can applaud what science does well, but are still prepared to question what we don’t like or understand is a sign of a healthy democratic relationship with science, scientists and science funding.”

The results are also validating for science communicators like Dr Lamberts: the more informed people felt about science, the more likely they were to be positive about it.

Find out more about ANU research in science communication