SFI Barometer: 80pc of people in Ireland trust scientists

12 Mar 2021

Image: © tatomm/Stock.adobe.com

This year’s SFI Barometer report highlights public awareness of the threat of Covid-19 and a desire to keep up with research news.

Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) launched its latest Science in Ireland Barometer report today (12 March). It contains the results of a survey taken by more than 1,000 people between July and September 2020 by Qualia Analytics.

Of the respondents, 94pc said they think science is important and 88pc consider it inspiring. Three-quarters said that science is useful in solving everyday problems in their lives. But less than half (40pc) said they identify as the type of person who could be a scientist.

‘When compared to previous research, we see that perceived barriers to science and its accessibility appear to be reducing’

One area of focus in the survey was public perception of Covid-19. At the time of the survey, the Irish public were aware that the coronavirus posed a threat, with 94pc of those surveyed agreeing that getting sick with Covid-19 can be serious. However, the level of perceived individual risk was lower, with only 21pc feeling they personally would get infected.

In terms of vaccines, three-quarters were in favour of making vaccination mandatory. And more than one-third (35pc) said their mental health had been negatively affected by the impact of the pandemic, with one-fifth saying they had experienced severe tensions in their household.

More than 80pc of respondents said they trust in scientists at the moment and many expressed a “strong desire to hear from scientists about their research”, according to SFI. The majority (85pc) agreed that scientists have a professional responsibility to talk about research findings with the public, and 65pc said they believe they should have a say in how science develops.

At the time of the survey, 69pc said they were following the news on a daily basis, and SFI said there was a “considerable increase” in the number of people who sought out science news at least once in the past 30 days when compared to 2018 data, jumping from 48pc to 88pc.

‘Informing and shaping’ the future of science

Dr Ruth Freeman, director of science for society at SFI, said: “Having a clear understanding of attitudes to science is invaluable to inform and shape how our work meets the needs of the people of Ireland. When compared to previous research, we see that perceived barriers to science and its accessibility appear to be reducing.

“It is also noteworthy that there is an appetite to hear more about the research being carried out in Ireland. It demonstrates the desire for research to be lifted out of scientific journals and be part of conversations with the public it serves. Researchers, funders and the media have roles to play in bringing scientific research into the mainstream, enabling the public to participate in important conversations about how advances in knowledge and new innovations impact on our lives.”

Dr Eric Jensen, project lead at Qualia Analytics, added: “This survey offers a robust picture of the public’s relationship with science. We found that the Irish public has one of the highest levels of trust in science when compared with other small, advanced economies.”

A follow-up to the 2020 Barometer report is set to be carried out and results will be published in the coming months. SFI also recently published its 2025 strategy, Shaping Our Future.

Lisa Ardill was careers editor at Silicon Republic until June 2021