PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


Critical Review of the UK’s “Gold Standard” Survey of Public Attitudes to Science

Eric Jensen  

Since 2000, the UK government has funded surveys aimed at understanding the UK public's attitudes toward science, scientists and science policy. Known as the Public Attitudes to Science (PAS) series, these surveys and their predecessors have long been used in UK science communication policy, practice and scholarship as a source of authoritative knowledge about science-related attitudes and behaviors. Given their importance, and the significant public funding investment they represent, detailed academic scrutiny of the studies is needed. In this essay, we critically review the most recently published PAS survey (2014), assessing the robustness of its methods and claims. Ultimately, this review aims to bring the influential PAS 2014 survey results into the peer-reviewed academic literature by evaluating which findings should be accepted or rejected in light of established principles of good practice in quantitative social research. The review casts doubt on the quality of key elements of the PAS 2014 survey data and analysis, while highlighting the importance of robust quantitative social research methodology and probability-based sampling. The implications for the current status of knowledge about public attitudes to science are discussed, suggesting that some of this social scientific 'knowledge' rests on a weak methodological foundation.

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