Poll suggests Canadian trust in science falling, scientists thought ‘elitist’

‘While science skeptics represent the minority of Canadians, their number is increasing’

Students check out a robotic rover at the Canada-Wide Science Fair at Carleton University, in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 16, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle)

A survey suggests that the trust Canadians place in science may be eroding.

The survey, by the polling firm Ipsos for the multinational 3M company, also found that nearly half of those surveyed thought scientists are elitist and that a significant number of respondents discounted findings that don’t accord with their personal beliefs.

“While science skeptics represent the minority of Canadians, their number is increasing,” said Richard Chartrand of 3M Canada. “This trend is concerning because it shows that distrust is growing.”

The Canadian figures are from a global survey of more than 14,000 people between July and September 2018. It’s the second year 3M has done the research.

At a time when accelerating climate change and wildlife loss are placing science at the top of the public agenda, the survey found that 32 per cent of respondents were skeptical about it. That was up from 25 per cent the previous year.

“It moved from one person out of four to one person out of three,” Chartrand said. “It’s difficult for us to understand why.”

The study’s results were conflicting. While doubt was growing, nine out of 10 respondents said they still trusted research results.

Answers to other questions showed that trust to be wary.

Nearly half — 44 per cent — said they considered scientists “elitists.” About one-third felt scientists were influenced by government agendas. Another third thought science has been swayed by corporate agendas.

And 30 per cent said they only believed science that aligned with their personal beliefs.

READ MORE: Mistrust, lack of info holding back Canadians getting vaccinated: B.C. pharmacist

Other findings have echoed the 3M-Ipsos survey.

A 2017 Leger poll for the Ontario Science Centre found 29 per cent of respondents thought that because scientific theories are subject to challenge, they can’t be trusted. Another question suggested 43 per cent considered science to be a matter of opinion.

“It’s depressing but not too surprising,” said John Smol, an ecologist at Queen’s University who has written about the issue. “There’s a real disconnect between what scientists do and what is the perception in the public.”

Smol fears Canadians don’t understand how science works — that data, not belief, is what counts and that science advances when old beliefs are upended, not shored up by unspoken consensus.

“There are certainly misconceptions,” he said. “You can’t blame them. It’s a jungle of misinformation out there.”

It’s not all the public’s fault, said Stephen Johnstone, chairman of earth and atmospheric sciences at the University of Alberta.

“We have to make an effort to communicate in terms that are understandable,” he said.

“There used to be an ethic in science that the lower the number of people who actually understood what you did, the better you are doing. That is turning around.”

Smol agreed.

“We have a real responsibility to make (science) accessible. We’re still doing a relatively poor job of translating the data — by and large paid for by taxpayers — and passing it to the public.”

READ MORE: UVic pronounces three new Canada Research chairs

The poll did show curiosity about science. Almost all respondents thought findings should be shared in easily understood language and 88 per cent wished they knew more about science.

“I look at these results and think they’re quite positive,” said Johnstone. “People appreciate that science is a necessary thing. There’s an insatiable appetite for science.”

The bridge between the public and the lab must be bridged, said Chartrand.

“There’s a clear message in this survey.”

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Western Speedway racing legend ‘The Flying Plumber’ turns 98

Dave Cooper recalls car crashes, his first win, and more

Second puppy killed by poisonous mushrooms in Victoria

Springer spaniel puppy died after consuming mushrooms in Fairfield neighbourhood

Driver charged in Central Saanich pedestrian’s death appears in court

Victim Kim Ward, 51, died on scene at the August 2018 crash

Langford homeowner helps West Shore RCMP catch car thief

The homeowner grabbed the suspect until the police arrived moments later

Nuisance tree will remain on perimeter of Fireman’s Park

Council re-affirm pledge to protecting healthy tree canopy

WATCH: Greater Victoria’s top stories of the day

A round-up of the day’s top stories

POLL: Do you think the day of the federal election should be a statutory holiday?

Increasing voter turnout has long been a goal of officials across the… Continue reading

Woman, 24, faces life-altering injuries after being dragged 4 blocks by vehicle in Vancouver

A gofundme account says the woman will have to undergo multiple complex surgeries

Fatal overdoses down by 33% in B.C., but carfentanil deaths continue to spike

Carfentanil, an illicit drug more powerful than fentanyl, causing more deaths than ever

Two RCMP vehicles vandalized in Duncan over long weekend

Local Mounties asking for help in finding culprits

A year after pot legalization in Canada, it’s a slow roll

It’s one year into Canada’s experiment in legal marijuana, and hundreds of legal pot shops have opened

ELECTION 2019: Climate strikes push environment to top of mind for federal leaders

Black Press Media presents a three-part series on three big election issues

Most Read