The great continental divide on scientific issues

People have “grown more confident” that human activity is affecting global climate

Updated - November 28, 2021 09:39 pm IST

Published - September 23, 2010 01:51 am IST

FOR THE FUTURE: About 90 per cent of respondents felt that investment in science lays the foundation for future economic growth.

FOR THE FUTURE: About 90 per cent of respondents felt that investment in science lays the foundation for future economic growth.

Is the evolution theory equipped to explain the variety of species found on earth? Even as more and more evidence strengthens and finds the links that have led to the species that we find today and in the past, about 35 per cent of the Japanese and 49 per cent of Chinese people had “reason for doubt” about the theory's ability.

Compare this with the world figure of ten per cent of people who doubt the theory's ability to explain the variety of species found on earth.

But that does not necessarily mean that the Japanese and Chinese respondents believed in creationism. So why do they not totally believe in evolution.

Asian philosophy

Apparently, Asian philosophical systems such as Shinto or Buddhism, offer their own explanations when it comes to origin of life, Nature found.

Though many people still strongly believe in creationism in the U.S., 87 per cent believed that evolution can explain the variety of species found on earth.

The only explanation could be that the respondents were readers of Scientific American magazine, a respected and well-known magazine. It is widely read by those interested in science and scientific developments.

In all, 21,000 readers from 18 countries responded to a web-based survey conducted by the magazine and Nature journal. The results are published online in Nature today (Sept 23).

Similar reservations from Chinese and Japanese respondents were seen in the case of the ‘Big Bang.'

These were not the only issues on which Asian, European and the U.S. respondents had different views. In fact, they had reservations, doubts and different views on most of the hot issues in science. But they strongly concurred on some other issues.

GM crops

As expected, while 53 per cent were “totally comfortable” with genetically modified crops in the U.S., it was only 26 per cent in the case of Europe. And while only 13 per cent were “not comfortable” with GM crops in the U.S., it was 27 per cent in the case of Europe.

And when it comes to nuclear energy, the U.S. seemed to be more receptive to it than its counterparts in Europe. About 65 per cent of readers from Europe were “not comfortable” with nuclear energy compared with 18 per cent in the case of the U.S.

It appeared that Europe was for clean energy but they preferred renewable energy and not nuclear energy.

On climate change

Climategate could have created some controversy, if at all, but people's views that human activity is changing global climate has not diminished or weakened. Respondents from across the different continents, including the U.S. have “grown more confident” that human activity is affecting global climate.

One thing that scientists would be happy about is that respondents from across the countries surveyed “overwhelmingly agreed that scientists are more trustworthy than other public figures.”

Funding for science

They also agree on another major issue — investments in science. About 70 per cent of them agree that funding for science should be provided despite the current challenging economic condition.

So how could funding for science continue now? About 75 per cent agreed that cutting defence spending was the solution. Cutting social welfare funding appeared to be an unpopular option as only 15 per cent voted for it.

But can funding continue even during the current challenging time if there are no immediate returns? About 89 per cent the respondents were aware that returns from science, particularly basic science, would not have immediate payoffs. Yet they wanted funding to continue.

So which is the biggest investment that can fuel future economic growth of countries? Of course, it is science. That is what the survey found.

Compared to 89 per cent who felt that investment in science lays the foundation for future economic growth, only 47 per cent disagreed. Yet the 47 per cent supported continued science funding.

Scientists' role

Readers wanted scientists to interact with the public and address science-related policy issues and get involved in public debate. If readers trust scientists, will they not stand to gain and get a better understanding of controversial issues when scientists are involved in debates and take an active role in addressing the controversial issues in public?

The survey may be skewed, as only those already interested in science were involved, but it sends out a clear and loud message that it is time scientists came out of their cocoons and engaged with the public.

The only major limitation with the study is that the number of respondents from different countries was not uniform.

While thousands of readers who responded were from the U.S. and to a lesser extent from European countries, only 269 were from China.

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