722   Roundtable discussion

What can science communicators learn from national public opinion surveys

What can science communicators learn from national public opinion surveys?

Public attitudes and perceptions towards science and technology (S&T) are important for a wide range of actors – science communicators, policy makers, scientists and many others. A number of countries therefore have regular S&T public opinion surveys. The proposed panel will bring together researchers involved in four such projects from different parts of the world – Switzerland, Brazil, the United Kingdom, and the United States — to discuss what role their national survey plays in thinking about science communication in their countries.

The four countries were chosen because they represent different contexts and models and, thus, contrasting cases from which to learn. The Swiss project is a foundation funded, multi-year project based at a university and designed to address practical and theoretical questions. The Brazilian surveys are conducted by public sector organizations with a large role played by communication researchers. In contrast, the American survey is conducted on behalf of a federal advisory group with raw data that is immediately made public as part of a long-running national social science data source (the General Social Survey).

Panel participants will briefly share the rationale behind their survey programs, as well as their perceptions of strengths and limitations. Afterwards, the discussion will be opened to other meeting participants who are invited to share their experiences, perceptions, and hopes for national-level survey projects. The goal for the panel is to enable researchers interested in these types of projects to better design and use the data collected. Some key questions that we will pose to stimulate the discussion include: What are the current benefits and challenges? Are these surveys worth the resources? Who should conduct these surveys (e.g., academics, government, etc.)?  What should be the focus? What are the advantages of coordination versus independence?

Author: John Besley
Michigan State University, United States

John Besley will briefly describe the data collected for the United States' biennial report on public opinion about science and technology that forms part of a national Science and Engineering Indicators project. This data source is believed to be the most long-running and consistently running science survey but its long history also makes it somewhat old fashioned. Besley will comment on the origins of the current survey questions and the challenges involved in trying to update them for the current context while maintaining potentially valuable longitudinal trend lines. He will also note the danger of having a single core national survey and potential options for moving forward in cooperation with partners within the scientific community.

Speaker: Julia Metag
University of Münster, Germany

Julia Metag will present the Science Barometer Switzerland, a representative, longitudinal survey of the Swiss' attitudes towards science and their science-related information behavior. The barometer has been fielded in 2016 and 2019 and will be conducted again in 2022. The survey aims at bridging the public's and policy makers' interest in Swiss people's attitudes towards science with an academic interest in developments of media use for information about science and explaining scientific attitudes through people's information behavior (science of science communication). She will give a short initial statement on the challenges of meeting these two aims as well as of being comparable to other international surveys while adhering to the specific characteristics of Switzerland.

Speaker: Martin Bauer
London School of Economics, United Kingdom

Dr. Martin Bauer of the London School of Economics will provide an overview of past and current efforts around the world to track public opinion about science, as well as activity in the UK and Europe. He will draw on his work from the Mapping the Cultural Authority of Science" (MACAS) project as well as his ongoing efforts to understand different approaches to study public opinion about science in a variety of countries.

Speaker: Luisa Massarani
Fundação Oswaldo Cruz, Brazil

Dr. Luisa Massarani will briefly discuss public opinion survey efforts in Brazil, including a 2019 effort to focus on young people's views about science and technology. The young people who took part of the study displayed support and trust in science, and stated it is important to invest on the sector. According to the study, young people in general see the scientist figure under a positive light, and most of them believe that men and women are equally capable of being scientists and should therefore be offered the same opportunities. The survey was also accompanied by qualitative research. The decision to focus on youth will be discussed in the context of Brazil's long history of surveys on adult public opinion about S&T.

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