For a relatively small country (population-wise) of 36 million, Canada has arguably punched above its weight when it comes to scientific discoveries. It was a Canadian who co-discovered insulin, and a team here who figured out how "ghost particles" called neutrinos swap identities as they zoom from the Sun to Earth. We've pioneered AI. The list goes on.
When it comes to scientific literacy, though, Canadians are not doing so hot, according to a new survey. Released Monday by the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto to coincide with the start of Science Literacy Week, it shows that a shocking number say they don't necessarily believe in climate change, or trust that vaccines do not actually cause autism.
The online survey of a representative sample of 1,514 Canadians, conducted by the polling firm Leger, found that 43 percent think science is a "matter of opinion," and 33 percent believe they are "science illiterate."
Nearly half—47 percent—think the science of global warming is unclear, up from 40 percent last year. Twenty-four percent of Canadian millennials, more than any other age group, said vaccines are linked to autism, a claim that's been debunked again and again. And 52 percent of people think that GMOs are unhealthy, although there's no evidence of this.
A big problem that's made clear in this survey is that people are struggling to trust the media right now, including the science press. Seventy-nine percent of Canadians said they're worried that "fake news" is damaging the public perception of science (I'd agree with them there), and 31 percent "don't understand, believe in, or trust science reported in the news."
About seven in 10 think science is selectively reported to support media objectives, while a majority also believes science news can be spun in support of political motives.
The good news, for the Ontario Science Centre at least, is that the majority of respondents said they still trust science centres, museums, and scientists when they talk about science.
Given the challenges we're facing, from climate change and a melting Arctic to the risk of global pandemics, or workplace automation, it's arguably more important than ever to have a basic understanding of science, and trusted sources to learn about it. In the survey, 82 percent of Canadians said they still want to learn about science, so all is not lost.
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