Survey: the French have a great image of science, but their knowledge is low

This article is part one of a two-part survey conducted with Ifop in August 2022. Click here to download our survey results.

Only 21% have a “satisfactory” scientific culture

They are invited to place themselves at the levels of scientific culture1, only 21% of French people say they have a satisfactory scientific culture, including 3% very satisfactory – a lower level than in 2018 (27%, i.e. -6 points). At the same time, 42% consider it moderate, and 37% consider it as a deficiency in this area, including 17% as a major deficiency. This decline in self-assessment of scientific level is comparable to the technical level of scientific discussions related to Covid-19 in the last two years.

More: men and those under 35 years of age rate their scientific culture at a more satisfactory level (26% and 33%, respectively, compared to 18% of women and 17% of those aged 35 and over). The more favorable position of the youngest is explained, especially by the fact that the level of knowledge and education is undoubtedly higher than that of their elders, and also that their apprenticeship is more recent. ” gender difference On the other hand, there are several levels of explanations: firstly, men tend to overestimate their knowledge at all levels, while women tend to devalue them. In addition, due to their level of education, women are less attracted to scientific topics and are not as enthusiastic about scientific research as men.

About 92% have a “good image” of science

This level of scientific culture, which seems relatively low, does not affect the general image of science in general in the French. Thus, 92% of them declare that they have a good image, including 22% that they have a very good image.

However, we observe in detail the effect of the level of scientific culture on the degree of very good image of the discipline. Thus, we observe that 55% of those who consider themselves sufficiently cultured have a very good image of science, while only 9% of those who say that they lack this science (i.e., a difference of 46 points).

If a good image of science is unanimously shared by all French people, there are nevertheless differences at the level of a very good image: thus, more men and CSP+ are more likely to declare that they have a very good image of science. respectively 31% and 38% of women against only 15% and CSP- 14%). Furthermore, supporters of protest parties such as France Insoumise are less likely to have a very positive image of science (18%), while supporters of government parties are more likely to have a very positive image: 32% of supporters of La République Marche, 39% of supporters of Les Républicains %, 28% of Socialist Party and EELV supporters.

72% believe that science improves people

More specifically, on science, more than 9 out of 10 French people agree that science is a source of progress for humanity (93%, including 39% strongly agree) and that it has an important economic impact. the innovations it allows (91%, of which 27% completely agree) or science should remain the reference because it allows us to distinguish between truth and falsehood on many subjects (90%, of which 32% completely). to agree).

87% of the French also believe that science includes an attractive set of subjects, which does not prevent 70% of them from judging it as complex and not very accessible. Also, 72% believe that the development of scientific knowledge makes people better.

8 out of 10 French trust scientists

In addition to the image of science in general, albeit a bit more nuanced, scientists also benefit from a good image with the general public.

93% agree that scientists are motivated by curiosity, curiosity, and imagination (including 35% who strongly agree). This item is the only item approved by more than 9 out of 10 French people. The next opinion states that scientists are motivated by a desire to help change the world, with 85% and 19% strongly disagreeing. . 8 out of 10 French people believe scientists are trustworthy, but only 12% of them completely agree – one of the lowest scores on the response item.

25-34-year-olds are also underrepresented among those who trust scientists (69%, or 11 points below the average) – a phenomenon that is gaining momentum among the social environment and the first generation that has grown up. networks characterized by a growing distrust of governing bodies and are more likely to fall victim to the challenges of working life (compared to 18-24 year olds).

Other statements testify to the disinterested nature of researchers: their work for the common good, their selflessness, and their work for the welfare of humanity receive approval scores of 79% and 78%, respectively. In addition, there is a minority (46%) who believe that the French are motivated by a desire to be recognized by the general public.

However, several aspects contradict this image of Épinal: 71% of the French recognize their competitive motivation, 70% believe that they sometimes favor science to the detriment of humanity, and the majority are skeptical of their independence (57% consider them independent does not) ).

Here again, the Covid-19 crisis may have played a role in the negative perception of scientists. We have seen a large number of scientists being questioned about the crisis continuously on TV shows and news channels, and this media coverage of scientists for more than a year may affect the relatively small proportion of French who consider scientists to be independent: the moment scientists enter the field of current information, the health crisis working closely with the authorities in the context of governance, their independence may be questioned by a certain part of the population who are more suspicious of the authorities.

1Methodology: The survey was conducted on a sample of 1003 people, representing the French population aged 18 and over. The representativeness of the sample was ensured by the quota method (gender, age, profession of the person questioned) after stratification by region and agglomeration category. Interviews were conducted from August 16 to 19, 2022 through a self-administered online survey.

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