• 94% of the Irish population consider science to be important
  • 37% have sought out science news at least once in the previous month
  • Trust in science and scientists is high among Irish public

Dublin, 12 March 2021: 94% of the Irish population consider science to be important and 88% consider science inspiring. This is according to Science Foundation Ireland’s (SFI) Science in Ireland Barometer 2020, published today, which reveals the attitudes of the Irish public towards science.

While science was largely seen as valuable on a personal level with three quarters of those surveyed agreeing that science is useful in solving everyday problems in their lives, just 40% identify as the type of person who could be a scientist.

The research for the SFI Science in Ireland Barometer 2020 was undertaken between July to September 2020 by international research organisation, Qualia Analytics. The results, from a final sample size of 1,018 responses, were weighted to be representative of the Irish population.

The Irish public are more certain of the positive impact of science on society (66%) than most when compared to countries of similar population and economies; this view has increased in Ireland by 16% from the 2018 results of a similar global study, the Wellcome Global Monitor. This comes against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic where the impact of research and scientists has been elevated. Trust in scientists at 81% also points to an overall positive perception of the benefits and contribution of science and researchers in Ireland.

The results of the Barometer reveal a strong desire to hear from scientists about their research. It showed that 85% agreed that scientists have a professional responsibility to talk about research findings with the public, and 65% agreed that people who will be directly affected by scientific research should have a say in how it develops.

News consumption is high among respondents, with 69% reporting to follow the news on a daily basis. While there is a high level of variation in interest in science news, there is a considerable increase (37%) in the proportion of people having sought out science news at least once in the past 30 days when compared to 2018.

Director of Science for Society, Science Foundation Ireland, Dr Ruth Freeman, commented on the report: “Having a clear understanding of attitudes to science is invaluable to inform and shape how our work meets the needs of the people of Ireland. When compared to previous research, we see that perceived barriers to science and its accessibility appear to be reducing. Encouragingly, 79% feel ‘capable of understanding science’ and when we compare the findings of this report with the 2018 ‘Wellcome Global Monitor’ we see an 18% increase in people feeling informed about science. We saw that the younger a person is, the more likely they are to feel that they ‘can do science’, which may be an indicator of science education being rolled out throughout the national primary education system since 1999.

“It is also noteworthy that there is an appetite to hear more about the research being carried out in Ireland. It demonstrates the desire for research to be lifted out of scientific journals and be part of conversations with the public it serves. Researchers, funders and the media have roles to play in bringing scientific research into the mainstream, enabling the public to participate in important conversations about how advances in knowledge and new innovations impact on our lives.”

Project Lead at Qualia Analytics, Dr Eric Jensen, stated: "This survey offers a robust picture of the public's relationship with science. We found that the Irish public has one of the highest levels of trust in science, when compared with other small, advanced economies. The research findings also tell us that there is much wider confidence in the Irish public about the positive impact of science on ordinary people’s lives than in most other small, advanced economies in 2018 (average +17%).”

Perceptions of Covid-19

As part of the research, a study of the public perceptions of Covid-19 was completed. Phase II of the Barometer will now take place with the original 1,018 respondents. The results of Phase II will be published in the coming months.

Key findings from Phase I include:

  • At the time of the research (July – Sept 2020), the Irish public recognised the threat of Covid-19 with 94% in agreement ‘getting sick with COVID-19 can be serious’.
  • However, there was a low level of a perceived individual risk, with only 21% agreement that they personally would get infected with COVID-19.
  • 74% were in support of a mandatory vaccine.
  • 35% of respondents noted that their mental health was negatively affected by the impact of Covid-19 while 20% referenced experiencing ‘severe tensions in the household’.

The SFI Science in Ireland Barometer 2020 can be found here.