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Public confidence in science - what does it mean?

Maria Lindholm  

Since 2002 the Swedish non-profit organisation Vetenskap & Allmänhet (Public & Science) has, in collaboration with the SOM Institute at the University of Gothenburg, been conducting an annual attitude survey to measure the Swedish public's views on science and researchers. Through the years the project has contributed to new knowledge on, among other things, factors that influence public confidence in science and the correlation between the public's confidence in science and its willingness to invest public funds in different research fields. As part of an ongoing study, in late 2015 we conducted a series of focus group interviews with members of the Swedish public in order to explore the views of these groups in more depth and from a qualitative perspective. Emphasis was put on the concept of confidence in science and researchers in different fields, what the factors are that affect it, and what the concept means to different groups. Preliminary analyses of the results show a high confidence in science and researchers, albeit lower for researchers as a professional group than for science as a concept. There is a distinct focus on, and high confidence in, medical research, especially in groups with lower education levels. These groups also tend to have a vague conception of, and lower confidence in, the social sciences. Trust levels are the lowest for nutritional research, in part due to news fatigue caused by frequent and contradictory media reports of scientific dietary advice. Nutritional research aside, trust levels are generally higher for research areas that people feel that they can relate to and understand. The focus group study will be complemented with in-depth interviews with researchers and journalists during the first months of 2016, and the results from the study will be presented for the first time at PCST in 2016.

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