UPF researchers lead a study to better understand scientists’ opinions and attitudes towards citizens’ perception of science
Until now, very little was known about Spanish scientists’ perception of the target audience for their outreach and science communications. To better understand their opinions and attitudes, a study has been concucted by researchers at UPF and it has been published in PLOS ONE.
Researchers at UPF have studied the perception that Spanish scientists have of the public. The study was conducted by Carolina Llorente and Gema Revuelta of the Science, Communication and Society Studies Centre (CCS-UPF), Mar Carrió, of the Health Sciences Educational Research Group (GRECS) at UPF, and Miquel Porta, a researcher at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM). The article was published yesterday, 13 November, in the journal PLOS ONE.
Until now, very little was known about Spanish scientists’ perception of the target audience for their outreach and science communications. To better understand their opinions and attitudes, an online survey was conducted to which 1,022 researchers responded. One of its goals was to compare these opinions with the views of the citizens collected in studies of the social perception of science carried out by the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT) since 2002.
The research team enjoyed the collaboration of fourteen Units of Scientific Culture and Innovation (UCC+i) at universities and research centres in different cities in Spain. The group participated in the selection of the sample and the design of the questions, which allowed achieving a more representative sample of the country’s research landscape.
The results of this study show that there are differences between the perception the researchers have of the knowledge and attitudes of the public and how the public responds in the surveys of the FECYT.
Most respondents believe that science communication should be a shared responsibility between researchers, journalists working in the media, and communications professionals at research centres and universities.
In the social perception studies, the public values the professions related to science and technology highly, however, the researchers surveyed in this study did not perceive it in this way. Carolina Llorente, first author of the article, explains that “the second profession most highly valued by society, after physicians, are scientists. However, when we ask the researchers, they are of the opinion that other professions, such as athletes, are more highly valued by society and they place their profession only in seventh place”. The study shows that, in general, scientists believe that research is an unknown profession and that society does not have a true idea of the activity they perform.
Moreover, the researchers believe that there is great social interest in science and technology. Despite this, throughout the study the idea repeats itself that although there is a lot of interest, there is a lack of scientific training among the public. The view that the researchers have concerning the public’s scientific education is more pessimistic than that of the citizens themselves.
In the words of Gema Revuelta: “most respondents believe that science communication should be a shared responsibility between researchers, journalists working in the media, and communications professionals at research centres and universities”. 80% are of the opinion that scientific communication is a multidisciplinary activity involving collaboration among different actors. In addition, 69% are willing to participate in this activity.
In the social perception studies, the public values the professions related to science and technology highly, however, the researchers surveyed in this study did not perceive it in this way.
The study also shows that young researchers have received more training in scientific communication during their undergraduate, master’s or doctoral education. “We see a clear trend to increasing training in these matters that could explain young researchers’ more positive perception of the public’s capacity to understand scientific and technical issues”, Mar Carrió points out.
Knowing what researchers think about their audience and their own role in the communication of science is useful for designing more effective strategies in this field and promoting citizen participation in the research process. “Our challenge is now to explore how these differences in perception might be reduced to ensure that research personnel has a better understanding of the public, their training, their opinions and their expectations”, Carolina Llorente concludes.
This study was conducted with the support of the FECYT and the collaboration of the following UCC+i: AZTI-Tecnalia, Carlos III University of Madrid, University of Seville, Polytechnic University of Madrid, International University of La Rioja, Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia, University of Córdoba, National Research Center for Human Evolution, University of the Basque Country, Seneca Foundation, Open University of Catalonia, University of Zaragoza, Jaume I University.
Reference article: Llorente, G. Revuelta, M. Carrió, M. Porta. (2019) Scientists’ opinions and attitudes toward citizens’ understanding of science and their role in public engagement activities. PLOS ONE, 14(11): e0224262. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0224262.
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