March saw publication of the BIS Public Attitudes to Science 2014 report. I watched and listened with interest from the sidelines on this one in contrast to my direct involvement with the previous two studies. There were some great infographics that really seemed to be appreciated on Twitter.
The results are positive, showing that the vast majority of the population recognise that it’s a good thing to be interested in science and technology, with 91% agreeing that young people’s interest in science is essential for our future prosperity, and 76% agreeing that scientific research makes a direct contribution to economic growth. People are keen to hear about new scientific developments, and for scientists to discuss their work, although yet again the situation remains slightly more complicated as people often don’t want to be involved themselves. There was – for me – an interesting new insight showing the influence of women in promoting informal science learning.
But, I was particularly interested to read what the study would tell us about how people were getting their information about science. As I asked on one of the project blog’s posts, would people get more of that information online now compared to earlier studies?
The infographic above shows that nearly a third of people are now getting their news about scientific discoveries online (a higher figure for younger people), although TV still remains the most popular way in which people hear science news. I was surprised that women were less likely to get their science insights from online sources (with 20% mentioning online as one of their two top sources, compared with 25% of men). There are some interesting nuggets that suggest that many people don’t quite yet see content posted on social media as trustworthy and serious.
There’s also a great chapter, “Discussing science in a digital age”. The research behind this is a great example of a policy team taking insight from online discussions as I discussed with one of the research team in an interview almost a year ago. This part of the study looked at how people discuss and share science stories and content online.
While for many, science will be a key part of their consumption of social media, in the grand scheme of things it’s discussed relatively little compared to celebrity news for example. And traditional news media can still drive online conversation. Given that the previous study showed that the Late Adopter category – who can come to science via their own ethical concerns and interests – were particularly active on social platforms, the point was made that discussions can involve strong partisan views. Generating engagement with science content would seem to be a challenge – but unsurprisingly, the point is made that stories are more likely to be shared if they’re funny, visually appealing, or have a public health link.
That’s just a quick canter through some of the results – but if you’re involved in communicating science online (and off!) the full report is definitely worth a read.