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Thursday, 30 November, 2000, 19:58 GMT
Public prefers science to politics
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Is science out of control? A third of the public think so.
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

Most of the British public are "amazed" by the achievements of science but half of them believe that scientists do not stop and think about the risks of their work.

This is one of the thought-provoking conclusions that emerges from a detailed survey of what the British public think about science.

Researchers will be pleased to hear that a majority of the people questioned found science more interesting than economics, foreign affairs and politics. But 64% said the media sensationalised scientific developments.

The survey of nearly 2,000 people was sponsored by the UK Government's Office of Science and Technology (OFT) and the private Wellcome Trust.

Government regulation

The poll identified six groups ranging from those very interested in science to those who said it was "not for me".

Although 75% of those polled said that they were impressed by the achievements of science, 20% said that they were not interested and an overlapping 20% said that science was overrated.

There was much suspicion about the government's ability to regulate science, even among those who were in favour of more scientific research.

Two-thirds said that rules and regulations would not stop scientists; half said that scientists did not stop and think about the implications of their work; and a third said that science was out of control.

Boring cloning

"Scientists and science communicators should consider their role in informing the public," the report concluded after two-thirds of the respondents said that the media sensationalised science.

In the survey, which was carried out so that it represented a sample of incomes, education, occupations and locations, science was found to be more popular than politics, economics and foreign affairs.

Surprisingly, there was not much interest in the controversy surrounding cloning. Only 6% said they were very interested in the issue, whereas 75% said it was a bore.

Almost two-thirds said they were very interested in telecommunications, 47% in space and astronomy, and 43% in genetic testing.

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17 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
UK 'developing anti-science culture'
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