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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Surrey RCMP say $14K in stolen phones recovered following investigation

Police say phones reportedly being sold on Facebook Marketplace

Semiahmoo First Nation declares local state of emergency

Parking lots, beach access on SFN lands closed due to COVID-19

Young Muslims offer helping hand to isolated residents throughout Lower Mainland

Neighbourhood Helper campaign aims to get help to people who can’t leave their homes

COVID-19: Daily update on the pandemic in Surrey, White Rock and beyond

APRIL 9: Virtual mental-health supports announced, feds clarify lump-sum payments

South Surrey man aims to ease stress of pandemic with free online yoga

Patrick Aubert says his one-hour classes are about rest, recovery

B.C. unveils $5M for mental health supports during the COVID-19 pandemic

Will include virtual clinics and resources for British Columbians, including front-line workers

B.C. First Nations Health Authority launches virtual doctor program

Program to provide primary health care through COVID-19 pandemic

UPDATE: Canadians awake to extra COVID-19 emergency benefit money, feds clarify changes

The CRA and federal officials are working to clarify the confusion around payments

VIDEO: B.C. singer creates frontline workers tribute song

Cambree Lovesy’s song saluting those battling COVID-19 draws interest online

Statistics Canada report looks at COVID-19’s impact on violence in the family

Police across Canada reported almost 100,000 cases of intimate partner violence in 2018

132,000 B.C. jobs lost just the start of COVID-19 impact, finance minister says

Finance Minister Carole James says ‘this isn’t the entire picture’

B.C. asking companies to contribute through online COVID-19 supply hub

New platform to co-ordinate, source, expedite supplies and equipment to support front-line workers

Controls can keep Canadian COVID-19 deaths under 22,000, health agency says

With poor containment measures, the death toll could be much, much higher, the agency says

Most Read