Perception of science shows continental divide

Science isn’t an international language after all, according to a new survey. On the contrary, when people from different cultures read the same article, they can come away with completely different opinions.

The survey, which appears in Nature, examined the attitudes of over 21,000 readers of Scientific American and its translated editions around the world. It uncovered significant differences between the various groups, and in particular between East Asians and the rest of the world.

For example, 35 percent of the Japanese and 49 percent of the Chinese agreed there was reason for doubt about evolutionary theory – compared with just ten percent or so in the rest of the world.

And these nationalities were also less likely to say they trusted scientific explanations of the origins of the universe.

It’s impossible to discuss this subject without examining the issue of global warming, and here, the survey found, many people in every country said they’d become more confident in the last year that man-made climate change was taking place.

Overall, 44 percent said their views hadn’t changed, 14 percent said they’d become more doubtful and 40 percent said they’d become more confident that human beings were affecting the climate.

Perhaps surprisingly, the survey found that the US wasn’t the most doubtful country about climate change – these were France, Japan and Australia.

Rather nicely, the survey found that scientists were the most trusted group of people on the planet. This chimes with a survey from the Pew Research Center last year which concluded that 84 percent of Americans think science has had a mainly positive effect on society