Why more and more young people do not believe in scientific truths?

INTERVIEW – Ifop’s research published on January 12 shows that young people’s disbelief in scientific truths is increasing. Francois Kraus, editor of the survey, believes that the rise of irrational beliefs is part of the context of a revolution in information practices.

François Kraus is the director of Ifop’s Policy and News Department. He publish researchFor the Jean-Jaurès Foundation and the Reboot Foundation on youth misinformation and their attitudes towards science and the paranormal in the age of social networks.

LE FIGARO. – According to the Ifop study, only 33% of young people think that science brings more good than harm. This is 22 points less than 50 years ago. How can this decrease be explained?

That’s right, the proportion of young people who believe in evolution “Science brings more good than harm to man” (33% in 2022, compared to 55% in 1972) gives the impression that Generation Z is more skeptical of the benefits of science than the baby boom generation. However, I think we should not draw too alarming conclusions about the relationship between science and society.

First, because this evolution does not mean that the majority of young people today express distrust in the principles of science: only 17% of young people believe that its contribution to humanity is more harmful than positive, i.e. growth (+11 points between 1972 and 2022), but remains in the minority. In reality, young people now have a rather uncertain view on this issue: 41% of them (+3 points) believe that science is beneficial to people. “as much harm as good”.

After that, a series of surveys that allowed us to track the main changes in the public image of science and technology in France (1972-2020) for more than 50 years, showed that the French may have lost a sense of faith in science. although in intensity, it remains high… Indeed, if we analyze the main national surveys conducted on this subject by Frédéric Bon (CNRS), then by Daniel Boy (Cevipof), we observe the same trend of the French population as a whole: the proportion of French who believe that science has brought “better than bad” It halved between 1972 (56%) and 2020 (27%), but those who thought otherwise were not in the majority (+12% in 2020, +7 points since 1972). In reality, the French are in the majority with a nuanced position, rising from 38% in 1972 to 52% in 2011 and 62% in 2020. The overall number of French people who believe in science has certainly decreased over the past 20 years (88% vs. 84% in 20021), but above all it has lost its intensity with the halving of the number of French people who have great faith in science: 11% in 2007 21% in 2020 compared to 18% in 2001.

Young people who turn to social networks microblogs more immersed in alternative truths several times a day.

Francois Kraus

Finally, the weakening of faith in science that we observe must be written in the specific context of the health crisis from which we are struggling. By brutally confronting the general public with the uncertainties of researchers and doctors, the Covid-19 crisis has actually undermined public trust in a scientific community that can appear divided and slow to respond to them. It is clear that this confidence has already been damaged – and not only because of awareness of the climate crisis … – but with the high impact of Covid, its current level must be put into perspective.

One in six young people think the Earth is flat. One in five people believe that aliens built the pyramids in Egypt. What is the weight of social networks in this evolution?

It is true that in this Reboot/Jaurès survey, Ifop tried to empirically measure the degree of misinformation among young people by assessing the degree to which they believe in “alternative truths”, some of which are the great classics of anti-science. And the most notable among these classics is undoubtedly “writing”, as it has a significant number of followers between the ages of 18-24 (16%). Indeed, although relatively stable since 2017 (18%), it is still five times higher among seniors (3%). However, a detailed analysis of the profile of straight people shows that flat Earth supporters are naturally overrepresented among the youth most exposed to these theses on the Internet, namely heavy users (21%) of online video services such as YouTube. Messaging apps like Telegram (28%) or the search engine TikTok (29%). Despite the scientific evidence, years of online backlash always seem to pay off among those who have a lot of information on social media.

Today, even if social networks are a new means of access to all alternative discourses, we cannot assume the sole responsibility today.

Francois Kraus

Let’s face it, we can’t always find a systematic “social network” effect for everyone fake news. But we can clearly see that, for example, young people who turn to social networks microblogs several times a day are more attuned to alternative truths such as humans are not the result of long evolution (37%, vs. 27% average), mRNA vaccines can kill children (45%, vs. 32% average). ) or even impression“you can have a risk-free abortion with plant-based products” (36% vs. 25% average).

Many channels, especially TNT, regularly broadcast documentaries about UFOs and extraterrestrial bases. Isn’t that the key to understanding?

It is clear that today, even if social networks are a new means of access to all alternative discourses, we cannot be solely responsible. The most striking example of the influence of television is, of course, the famous Alien theory, which is based on the idea that aliens played a role in the creation of the first civilizations. However, this ufological theory has been popularized since 2013 thanks to a series broadcast on TNT channel (RMC Découverte) in France, which hijacked the codes of the documentary. Consequently, for the number of young people between the ages of 18 and 24, the impact is not negligible. “The Egyptian pyramids were built by aliens” : 19%, that is, three times more than among the elderly (5%).

Is there a connection between the decline of science among young people and the rise of beliefs in alternative medicine and even astrology?

Let’s say that the greatest susceptibility of young people to conspiracy imaginations is found in other beliefs that have no scientific basis, such as astrology or the occult. And to conclude, I would say that on the one hand, there is more correlation than causation between the rejection of a whole set of truths for which there is a consensus in the scientific community. , the appetite for all irrational beliefs, called para-sciences, is scientifically unfounded.

The information disorders of the Internet age certainly underscore the traditional susceptibility of younger generations to these supernatural beliefs.

Francois Kraus

The survey does show that young people are increasingly impervious to “scientific methods,” but this is unfounded. Thus, today 49% of young people believe that “astrology is a science”, compared to 43% in 1999. In other occult beliefs, this upward trend, for example: alcoholic beverages (48% since 2004, +8 points) or in reincarnation: 35% in 2022, an increase of 15 points in sixteen years.

A generational divide emerges in both belief in fortune-telling (38% vs. 12% of seniors) and belief in magic and witchcraft (20% vs. 36% among over-65s). Similarly, young people are more susceptible to superstitions of an occult nature than adults. Overall, 59% believe in at least one of them, compared to 21% of the oldest. And this generational gap is found in all beliefs, be it the evil eye (44%, against 10%), ghosts (23%, against 4%), demons (19% among the youngest, against 8%) or even marabouts (18- 13% of 24-year-olds vs. 4%).

But then there is the question of whether this is an age effect that fades over time or a generational effect that is meant to last… Hard to answer, but decades of research on human relationships. science has already shown that young people were more sensitive to these beliefs before the digital age. In 1986, Daniel Boy also hypothesized that among young people “Attachment to these systems of thought has a shelter or ideological substitute value for age groups whose social integration (family, profession, social status) is not complete.”. Therefore, our hypothesis is that this is both a generational effect and an age effect: the information disorders of the Internet age will undoubtedly highlight the traditional susceptibility of younger generations to these beliefs, the supernatural.

In addition, more than 40% of tiktokers consider an influencer as credible when they are followed by many people. Have we entered a new era of credibility that breeds popularity? Does this phenomenon create distrust in science among young people?

This is clearly a risk… The rise of conspiracy or baseless beliefs is part of a revolution in information practices, where authorities—political, media, scientific—distrust vertical information with greater trust in its horizontal transmission through the social networks everyone uses. accompanied. potential environment.

41% of young people who use TikTok as a search engine agree that an influencer with a large following tends to be a trusted source.

Francois Kraus

Although the TikTok app is used by many young people as an arbitrary search engine, influencers represent a privileged channel for the circulation of true or false information. An alarming figure, 41% of young people using TikTok as a search engine agree with the statement that an influencer with a large following tends to be a reliable source. This can also be seen as the notoriety effect: because a person’s word is followed by many users of a social network, it is not questioned or questioned. So, without shocking many young people, celebrity is enough to make them self-aware. And when evaluating the credibility of influencers and content creators, it is the most modest young people who take this criterion into account the most (workers 52%, the poorest 44%). All of these are ultimately very indicative of the level of knowledge and experience, which in my eyes shows that some of the youth lack critical thinking about ‘popular influencers’.

SEE ALSO – “No conspirator has discovered a conspiracy”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *