young people doubt scientific truth
According to an Ifop survey of 18-24s’ engagement with science and social media, this is particularly true of young Muslims, 71% of whom, for example, deny the theory of evolution.
Have young people lost faith in science? According to an Ifop survey published on January 12 in association with the Jean Jaurès Foundation and Reboot, only one in three young people believe that “science does more good than harm”. On the contrary, 16% are sure of the opposite.
Mistrust that has grown a lot in thirty years. In 1972, science promoters represented more than half (55%) of young people, a 22-point decline over fifty years. By contrast, only 6% of 18-24-year-olds blamed scientific theories, almost three times as many today.
Among them, the most dangerous are the most worried: one in three workers’ children do not believe in the benefits of scientific discoveries, and only 10% of young people from the families of teachers or high-ranking officials. With the exception of Catholics (14%), religious beliefs also appear to be a decisive factor in scientific distrust. Thus, 27% of young Muslims and 24% of young Protestants are skeptical, compared to 17% of young people overall and 13% of atheists.
Unlike their elders, today’s young people refuse to believe the truths they are told, and willingly take refuge in alternative theories. Half of them, for example, believe in the scientific nature of astrology. If today 5% of older people believe that the Egyptian pyramids were built by aliens, 19% of young people do. One in five young Americans has not been to the moon; for every third, humans are not the result of a long evolution of the species.
Again, there is an interesting religious difference. Of the thousands of young people questioned, 71% of Muslims reject the theory of evolution, compared to 27% of Catholics. When it comes to the shape of the earth, young Muslims are also the most skeptical. 34% believe the planet is flat, compared to 14% of Catholics, atheists and Protestants.
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Today’s 18-24 year olds are more susceptible to disinformation campaigns. Thus, they are more than one in two young people to blame Ukrainian authorities for orchestrating the massacre of civilians in Butcha, which accuses Donald Trump’s opponents of faking the attack on the Capitol to undermine the former US president.
Social networks, promoters of fake news
While sociological and religious factors are noteworthy, they do not explain everything. In three years, Covid has crossed a generation and marked it deeply. While the same medical professors were chained on TV for months, a convoluted system of disinformation developed in parallel on social networks, questioning the scientific discourse. They also 25% believe in the virtues of chloroquine in Covid-19, more than 30% are suspicious of messenger RNA vaccines that create toxic proteins that cause irreversible damage to vital organs.
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Young people who use social networks every day, and especially the Chinese TikTok, known for its very short videos, are more skeptical of scientific facts, especially current events. More than one in three young people who use Tiktok several times a day believe that the 2020 US election that led to Donald Trump’s victory was rigged. The same is true of the imagined consequences of mRNA vaccines on children. Half of Telegram’s daily users believe that abortion with plants is possible without risk to mother and child. Similarly, one in four young people who like encrypted messaging doubt that the Earth is really flat.
Despite all the campaigns against fake news, one in three young people believe information spread on social networks. Here again, disadvantaged youth are more affected than others. About one out of every two working children finds information on Instagram and TikTok to be reliable. Young people with religious beliefs are also somewhat sensitive to this, with 41% Muslims, 43% Protestants and 36% Catholics against 30% atheists.