Indian Public’s Attitude to Science?

Written by  //  May 21, 2011  //  Science & Technology  //  1 Comment

The UK public values science and is interested in finding out about it, with two-thirds agreeing that knowing about science is important to them personally. The society is more at ease with science than a decade ago and sees science as leading to more benefits than harmful effects.

The UK government has recently released a study titled Public Attitudes to Science 2011. (See summary below). A foreword by the current Science Minister, David Willets, points to the fact this is the fourth in a series. The others were published in 2000, 2005 and 2008. I was glad to see that such initiatives have been taken at a governmental level. I’ll discuss some of the findings.

Many people feel their attitudes to science, both positive and negative, were formed at school.

Most also see careers in science as desirable, although there is less enthusiasm for working in science among 16- to 24-year olds.

The most interesting point in the UK report was the fact that. It makes me wonder how important it is to have a good science teacher given the impact he/she can have on a person’s life. It must make schools worry about how uninterested the youth seem to be about science.

The data suggest that recent media controversies such as “climategate” have had little impact on how much people feel they trust scientists, with a clear majority saying they trust scientists “about the same as they did five years ago”

Most support Government funding of science even for projects that bring no immediate benefits, even in the current context of reduced Government spending generally.

But it was pleasantly surprising to know that people still trust scientists especially after all the climate change skeptics have been rallying around the country to put to shame the scientists involved in the ‘climategate’. That trust is well demonstrated by the fact the public are ready to support blue skies research.

While searching for similar studies done in India, I found that the Indian National Science Academy had published a report back in 2005 which covers a wider a range of topics. The questions asked in both the two surveys have some common points but not many. I really like how well the executive summary of the UK report has been compiled compared to cluttered one in the Indian report.

The Indian Science Report looks at Science Education, Human Resources and Public Attitude towards Science and Technology. For this post I will focus on the findings related to the Public Attitude towards Science and Technology.

India’s attitude to science is hard to understand (probably because the surveyors did not ask the right questions?). I found the executive summary difficult to read. It was more facts thrown out at the reader where as it should have somewhat of a storyline.

Over three-fourths of the public feel S&T is are important for education. The perception is that the benefits of S&T are slightly higher (1.1 times) than its deleterious effects.

Less than 12% of the illiterates feel computers and factory automation create more jobs than they destroy while over half of the graduates and postgraduates feel this way. Just a fourth of all Indians are in favour of mechanisation.

Indians consider science to be an important part of our education but don’t think that it does much good. And, by the way, most Indians seem to be Luddites (!).

Television remains the primary source (57%) of information in the country, and is almost five times as popular as newspapers.
Weather news is the most popular S&T show watched on TV.

Most of the information Indians get about science is from watching TV and the weather report is the most popular science and technology show (!).

The most disappointing bit of the report for me was how little Indians read about science. Of course, it is not just the public to blame but the lack of science in the newspapers and the dearth of science magazines.

95% of graduates feel S&T makes life healthier, easier and more comfortable as compared to 56% of the illiterates. 80% of graduates think S&T will create better opportunities for the next generations as compared to 30% of illiterates.

The blame of the skewed results here also goes to show that the lack of education can make it very hard to understand and appreciate science. But the most annoying thing about the report was that comparisons mentioned were made between graduates and illiterates. What happened to those who are literates but not graduates?

A little over half of those in the lowest income quantile feel that new technology makes work more interesting way as compared to 80% in the top-most income quantile.

The difference in the few of the poor v/s the rich toward science is also expected. Do have a look at the full report for more ‘insights’.

Given that it is India’s first report, there is nothing to compare the current results with. Hopefully, there will be another report published in a few years that will give us more insights in to how the education policies affect India’s attitude to science.

About the Author

Akshat is working towards a DPhil in organic chemistry at the University of Oxford. He is on a mission to better understand the impact of science on the society and in the process communicate science to influence public opinion. He blogs about science on The Allotrope and about everything else at Contemplation."

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