Are scientific findings a matter of opinion? Forty-three per cent of Canadians agree that they are, suggests a new poll.
The survey found widespread concerns about fake news — 66 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement that “false information reported as fact (so called ‘fake news’) is affecting your knowledge of science.”
It also uncovered possible evidence of that happening, including a widespread belief in ideas contrary to scientific consensus:
“I think these are worrisome results,” said Maurice Bitran, chief executive officer of the Ontario Science Centre, which commissioned the survey for Science Literacy Week, Sept. 18-24.
Bitran said understanding science is important when it comes to making public policy decisions in a democracy like ours.
“If you think that climate change is one of the main issues that we face as a society, and almost half of us think that the science is still unclear when there’s a pretty broad scientific consensus about it, this affects the chances that we have to act in a unified way about it.”
He is concerned about some of the findings that suggest a lack of trust in science and media coverage of scientific issues such as:
31 per cent of respondents agree that “because scientific ideas are fluid and subject to change, they can’t be trusted.”
68 per cent agree that media coverage of scientific issues is “reported selectively to support news media objectives.”
59 per cent agree that media coverage of scientific issues is “presented to support a political position.”
The survey was conducted by the research firm Leger. It polled 1,514 Canadians between Aug. 15 and 16. A sample of that size would normally yield a margin of error of +/-2.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
Bitran said the fact that four in 10 Canadians think that science is a matter of opinion, “shows a lack of understanding of the scientific method.”
But Dawn Sutherland, Canada Research Chair in Science Education in Cultural Contexts at the University of Winnipeg, thinks some of the survey’s questions about scientific findings are flawed and not very helpful, as the statements that respondents had to agree or disagree with represent extremes and could contain more than one interpretation.
She noted that the survey did uncover some good news: