The rising skepticism of science and how we can solve it.

September 19, 2019 Richard Chartrand

scientist in lab

If you have felt a growing sense of distrust in science, you are not alone. This year, the 3M State of Science Index found that people’s skepticism of science is on the rise. In fact, 32% of Canadian adults feel skeptical about science this year, which is up from 25% in 2018.

We know from experience how important science is for the solutions we build. The fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are critical for solving the problems that Canada and our customers face. This skepticism of science puts our economy, our pipeline of STEM talent, and our environment at risk.

3M State of Science Index: 3 key findings.

  1. The importance of science in our lives.

Only 4 out of 10 Canadians see science as crucial in our lives. This is particularly surprising, considering that science has revolutionized the way we live. From the medicines we take, to the digital information we consume every day, science has a significant impact on the way we interact with the world. Therefore, we need to probe further to find out why many Canadians view science as inconsequential.

One explanation lies in the finding that 8 out of 10 Canadians admit to knowing little to nothing about science, which explains why they do not find value in it. The value of science in our lives is underestimated, and this threatens the credibility of various scientific communities.

  1. Scientists are perceived as elitists.

When we asked Canadians how they perceive scientists, 44% thought that scientists come across as being elitists. This judgment suggests that there is a disconnect between the general populace on the one hand, and scientists on the other. It also hints at why Canadians may want to disassociate themselves from science altogether.

To resolve this problem, scientists need to analyze how they communicate their findings. We need to ask ourselves: Do we talk about science in a way that someone who isn’t a scientist can understand? Do we give people a reason to care about scientific findings? Do we make science relevant?

  1. Canadians would consider a STEM field.

Canadians are curious about science. If we could go back in time, 50% of us would pursue a science-based career. This proves that, for Canadians, self-selecting themselves out of STEM fields is a common issue.

There is little awareness around careers that involve STEM training outside of “scientist,” and this perpetuates the preconceived notions about scientific fields. The average science job does not always involve being in a laboratory or a manufacturing plant, but it can also include careers in fields such as astronomy, teaching, or architecture.

We wanted to learn how we can make a difference, and to understand what we can do better we invited scientists Jayshree Seth and Samantha Yammine for a conversation. Here’s what they shared with us:

What can we do to change perceptions about science?

By focusing on simplifying science communications, we can help people connect the dots between theory and application. To begin changing perceptions of science, 3M has created a Scientists as Storytellers Toolkit, which includes practical advice from top communicators and scientists across the globe about how to better communicate science through great storytelling.

To reduce the perception of scientists as being elitists, connecting the general public to the scientific community is essential. At 3M, we partner with initiatives, such as Let’s Talk Science, Enactus, and FIRST Robotics, to break down the barriers between people experimenting with science and actual scientists and engineers from our laboratories. Investing in these community initiatives also provides aspiring scientists with information about the endless career possibilities that can come from pursuing a STEM field.

Championing science is crucial for a brighter future.

Curiosity drives us, and we are always looking ahead, using science to unearth problems and decode their solutions. As our world faces pressing challenges, we need scientists more than ever to deliver solutions that will improve lives and put a brighter future within reach.

Help us champion science. Stay in touch by signing up for our newsletter and let us know what we can do to decrease the rising skepticism of science.


About the Author

Richard Chartrand

[enBio=Richard began his career at 3M Canada in 1989 and has worked in several executive positions in graphics, industrial, safety, and energy business groups. He has also gained international experience through an assignment in Austin, Texas. Richard has more than 30 years of business experience, driving application development and new product commercialization, with a strong customer-focused attitude and disciplined execution. He is a results-oriented leader, a noted collaborative consensus builder, and a transparent problem-solver. Richard currently leads the US and Canada Research and Development Operations team and Canada Sustainability strategy to drive local investments and services and to support a unified global strategy to best serve 3M’s customers.],[enJob=Director, USAC Research and Development Operations and Canada Sustainability Leader, 3M Canada],[frBio=Richard a commencé à travailler à 3M Canada en 1989 et a occupé plusieurs postes de direction dans les groupes d’affaires industriels, en graphismes, en sécurité et en énergie. Il a également acquis une expérience internationale grâce à une affectation à Austin au Texas. Richard compte donc plus de 30 ans d’expérience dans le domaine des affaires et gère l’élaboration d’applications et la commercialisation de nouveaux produits avec une forte attitude axée sur le client et une exécution disciplinée. Il est un dirigeant axé sur les résultats, un homme de consensus reconnu et une personne qui résout les problèmes de manière transparente. Richard dirige actuellement l’équipe des activités de recherche et développement aux États-Unis et au Canada ainsi que la stratégie en matière de développement durable au Canada pour stimuler les investissements et les services locaux, et soutenir une stratégie mondiale unifiée afin de mieux servir les clients de 3M. ],[frJob=Directeur général, leader des activités en recherche et développement États-Unis-Canada et du développement durable au Canada, 3M Canada]

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