In this publication, the National Institute of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (NIHERST) presents the results of the Survey on the Public Perception of Science, 2012. This survey is the second of its kind to be conducted by NIHERST as a similar study was undertaken in 2005.
In general, the survey results revealed no significant change in the public's perception of science in 2012 compared to 2005.
The study focussed on the sources, interest and consumption of information and the popularisation of science and scientific research in Trinidad and Tobago. In addition, data on the demographic and socio-economic characteristics of respondents were also captured and included in this publication.
In keeping with NIHERST's support for the overall development of science and technology in Trinidad and Tobago, the empirical results of this study will measure changes in attitudes towards science overtime and also facilitate and inform the development of science policy, communication and popularisation.
Summary of Main Findings
- Of the total sample of 2504 respondents, 46% were males and 54% were females. In terms of age, a relatively large proportion (34%) of the survey respondents was 50 years and over.
- The majority of respondents (51%) reported their highest level of educational attainment as secondary, followed by primary (27%).
- Forty-three percent (43%) of the respondents in 2012, expressed a high level of interest in science while 57% indicated a little or no interest.
- A substantial proportion of the survey respondents (75%) in 2012 felt that they were informed with respect to science and technology while one quarter (25%) considered themselves not informed; a similar pattern of response was observed in 2005. The proportion of respondents who considered themselves informed about science and technology increased in relation to educational attainment.
- The areas of science and technology that inspired a high level of interest were medicine and health (83%), environment (72%), agriculture (59%) and computers and IT (54%). However, a significant proportion of the sample indicated little or no interest in archaeology (84%), geology (83%), astronomy and space (79%), engineering (71%) and psychology (63%).
- The majority of respondents (92%) was of the opinion that scientific knowledge could improve one's ability to make decisions and over four-fifths (88%) agreed that the application of science and technology would change work opportunities positively.
- Eighty-five (85%) of the respondents especially amongst those with educational attainment were of the opinion that scientific developments were beneficial to everyone.
- There was significant agreement on the positive impact of science and technology. The majority of respondents agreed that: scientific and technological advances would help cure illnesses such as AIDS and cancer. (86%); government should increase investment in science and technology (86%); the benefits of science and technology were greater than the negative effects (85%); and science was the best way to get accurate knowledge about the world (79%). On the other hand, a substantial percentage (73%) agreed that society should use expenditure for science in more urgent activities. Three-quarters (75%) of the sample disagreed that human beings today developed from earlier species of animal.
- A significant majority of the respondents was aware that smoking caused cancer (91%) and high blood pressure was also called hypertension (89%). Seventy percent (70%) or more knew that plants produced oxygen (83%), the centre of the earth was very hot (78%); light travelled faster than sound (78%); the earth rotated around the sun (71%) and white blood cells helped the body fight infection and other diseases (70%). Approximately a half or more of the respondents was aware that the continents had changed their positions over long periods of time (62%), the ozone layer absorbed ultraviolet radiation (56%) and the mother's gene did not decide the baby's gender (48%).
- Television was identified by 43% of the survey participants as their main source of information on science, followed by the Internet (25%). Compared with the results of a similar survey undertaken in 2005, the percentage of the respondents who accessed information on science on the Internet increased to 25% in 2012 from 10% in 2005.
- Three-quarters (75%) of the respondents were of the opinion that the media did not provide sufficient information on science.
- Over a half (56%) of the survey respondents read the newspapers daily or almost daily. Thirty-eight percent (38%) were occasional, once a week or seldom readers while 6% never read newspapers. However, only 13% read scientific articles regularly.
- Of the respondents engaged in television viewing, 22% accessed scientific information regularly.
- The percentage of respondents who never used the Internet to access scientific information decreased from 70% in 2005 to 48% in 2012.
- Only a third (35%) of the sample of respondents read books on science. The proportion of respondents who read books on science increased in relation to educational attainment.
- The majority (74%) of respondents never read science magazines; only 4% read them regularly and 16% once in a while.
- A substantial percentage (68%) of the survey respondents agreed that the quality of science and mathematics education in our schools was adequate while one-third (31%) disagreed.
- Overall, two-fifths of the respondents in each case read food labels always (38%) or sometimes (38%) and 15% read food labels whenever a new product was bought.
- Almost all of the survey respondents (96%) were of the opinion that foods containing GMOs should be labelled accordingly.
- Overall, over a half (57%) of the survey respondents knew their blood type. The majority of respondents with higher educational knew their blood type while those with primary education recorded the highest percentage (52%) where the blood type was unknown.
- A relatively large proportion of the respondents (45%) was of the opinion that HIV/AIDS resulted from a change in people's sexual habits while one-fifth indicated a scientist's experiment (20%) and people's ignorance (19%). This pattern of responses in 2012 was generally unchanged when compared to the results of the 2005 study.
- The survey participants were mostly familiar with the terms hormone (63%), DNA (61%), global warming (60%) and gene (60%). A substantial proportion of respondents was not familiar with the terms biodiversity (58%), catalyst (55%) and chlorophyll (42%).
- Over a half (56%) of the sample of respondents agreed that people who wanted to become scientists had to work abroad while 43% disagreed.
- A relatively large proportion of respondents (42%) indicated that a scientist's main reason for his/her choice of profession was the quest for knowledge; to solve people's problems (28%) was next in ranking.
- The majority of respondents (90%) in the Public Perception of Science Survey, 2012 would encourage their child/children to pursue a scientific career as observed in a similar study of 2005.
- A substantial percentage (68%) of the survey participants was of the opinion that scientific and technological research was conducted in Trinidad and Tobago and 69% identified the state as the main source of research funding.
- Of the respondents who were of the view that scientific and technological research was conducted in Trinidad and Tobago, an overwhelming majority (90%) stated that such undertaking was useful.
- A quarter (24%) of the survey respondents indicated that they had visited the NIHERST/NGC National Science Centre. Most (95%) of the respondents who had visited the science centre were satisfied with the visit.
- An extremely small percentage (2%) of the sample had participated in protest actions or made complaints about problems arising from science and technology activity. However, the majority (85%) of respondents indicated that it was important to participate in these actions.
- Overall, the participants of the survey by various age groups demonstrated positive attitudes towards the subject of this enquiry on the public perception of science. The majority (65%) stated that the study was interesting and 30% found it useful.