Science and the New Zealand Public

By Guest Author 20/10/2010

By Michael Edmonds

There are times when I worry about public attitudes to science in New Zealand, given the sometime poor reporting of science in the media, and the oft casting of scientists in the role of hard to understand boffin or obstructive cynic. Consequently, I was delighted to see some of the results from the recently released report ’ Science and the General Public’ by the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology.

Looking at the trustworthiness of difference sources of information, 69% of those surveyed considered scientists who work in industry as trustworthy, while scientists working for the public sector were considered trustworthy by 64%. As a comparison, only 11% considered politicians or lobby groups trustworthy, while 50% and 33% considered TV news/current affairs programmes and newspapers, respectively, as trustworthy. So despite the poor portrayal of scientists that sometimes occurs in the media it looks like scientists are still considered the most trustworthy sources of scientific information. Perhaps this is something that scientists need to remember — when they choose to shy away from media opportunities they are potentially doing both science and the public a disservice.

The survey also reveals some interesting attitudes to science. The majority of those surveyed recognise the value of science in developing new medical treatments, saving endangered species and improving agriculture, communications and transport. Around 75% believed science was beneficial for understanding earthquakes and their effect on people (It would be interesting to see what response this question would get in Christchurch at the moment!), while far fewer (around 40%) appreciated the benefits of space research and astronomy.

The survey makes fascinating reading and can be found here.

Michael Edmonds is an educator, researcher and manager at Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology. He has strong interests in the communication and promotion of science.

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