How do Australians engage with science?

Thank you to Dr. Suzette Searle for preparing this survey summary.

Does it surprise you that friends and family, and CSIRO were equally the most trusted sources of accurate scientific information volunteered by respondents (12%) in a recent Australian survey? What about the 21% who didn’t know who to trust, or the 9% who trusted no-one? Are those findings a cause for concern or an opportunity for you as a science communicator?

What is clear from this survey, however, is that most Australians value science and scientists in this society. For example, most (80%) agreed that, ‘science is very important to solving many of the problems facing us a society today.’ Most (88%) also agreed that ‘a career in science is a good choice of a career for people these days’ and scientists were ranked third, after doctors and teachers, in terms of the importance of their positive contribution to society.

I actually didn’t know what to think when it was found that 51% could not identify any Australian scientific or technological achievement. Of the 49% who could name something, however, most thought of the Cochlear ear implant, followed by the cervical cancer vaccine, “spray-on skin”, penicillin, Wi-Fi, the black box flight recorder and discovering the cause of stomach ulcers. Medical achievements were the most frequently mentioned, and in answers to other questions, it was clear that many people wanted to know more about medical science and technology.

There are many such insights that range across Australians attitudes, behaviours and values about science and technology to be found in ‘How do Australians engage with science’. This survey was designed to inform science communication practitioners as well as science policy decision makers and leaders of science in Australia. It was supported by Inspiring Australia, designed by CPAS ANU* and conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs.

This survey was based upon a questionnaire answered by 1,020 adult Australians over the telephone in February 2014. It describes their engagement in terms of how often they encountered science and technology information, how often they searched for information about science and technology, their participation in science-related activities and events within the previous 12 months and their attitudes towards science and technology. Both ‘science’ and ‘technology’ were defined and asked about separately.

Preliminary results, including analyses by gender age and location (major cities, regional and remote), segmentation by frequency of interaction, and the questionnaire are now available online.