OTTAWA, ONTARIO — When it comes to forming attitudes and opinions on issues ranging from COVID-19 vaccines to environmental sustainability, the majority of young adults in Canada use scientific information to guide their actions. Some specific cohorts, however, either question or ignore science, which impacts their attitudes about those science-based issues. These are just some of the findings from a national survey being released today.
The Canada Foundation for Innovation, in partnership with Acfas worked with polling firm Ipsos to shed light on the attitudes 18-24-year-old Canadians have toward science and the conditions and people who shape them.
Ipsos surveyed 1,500 people across the country on questions around the sources of information they access and which sources have the greatest influence on their attitudes toward four science-related issues: COVID-19 vaccine safety, environmental sustainability, climate change and the importance of Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) for the future.
READ the whole CFI and Acfas Youth Science Survey
The survey revealed that science matters for young adult Canadians. Seventy percent of respondents agreed that science can be relied upon because it is based on facts, not opinion, and 77% think science is a good field for people in their age group to pursue as a career.
The survey also revealed that this age group holds opinions consistent with the scientific evidence:
- 68% agree COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in Canada are safe;
- 63% agree that single use plastics should be banned;
- 55% agree that curbing the use of fossil fuels will help reduce the impacts of climate change; and
- 57% agree it is critical for Canadian politicians and governments to rely on science when making policy decisions for the benefits of Canadians on issues including health, wellbeing and the economy.
As part of the research, Canadian youth were divided into five segments that represent general mindsets that span a spectrum of attitudes towards science from pro-science to science-hesitant:
- Promotes science (17% of youth): segment that believes and advocates for science and prioritizes scientific evidence
- Trusts science (22%): believes in, and is engaged with, science despite pressure they may face to have the same opinion as family and friends
- Follows science (20%): believes science must be right because of what they read or see on news media, but are not actively engaged with science
- Questions science (16%): tends to question scientific claims and decides for themselves if they believe the science
- May ignore science (25%): leans toward following family and friends and social media influencers to form their opinion even if it goes against science
While 59% of those aged 18-24 fall into a segment that shows attitudes and behaviours that align with science, the survey revealed some areas of concern:
- Among the respondents who fall into the follows science segment, 84% believe they are not good in math. While their opinions generally align with science, they are more likely to say science is too intellectually demanding and that they don’t feel equipped to distinguish valid science from pseudoscience.
- Among those who question science, the majority use intuition to make personal decisions related to health and don’t believe scientific proof equals truth.
- Those belonging to the may ignore science segment are the most likely to follow someone on social media who has anti-science views and are least able to determine real news from fake news.
Social media influencers holding anti-science views are prevalent and pervasive, with 73% of respondents reporting they follow at least one social media influencer that has expressed anti-science views.
Overall, the survey made clear that young adults are navigating an extremely complex and diverse information ecosystem where they are inevitably exposed to fake news and anti-science information. This presents an increasingly difficult challenge for science communicators and educators: how to effectively reach those who do not have the tools, nor the interest, to fully understand science-related issues and fight misinformation. Policy makers, ministries of education and economic development organizations also have a role to play in taking up this challenge in order to build a stronger science-literate society.
The survey was conducted online from October 12 to 26, 2021. The overall data is accurate to within +/-2.9, 19 times out of 20.
“This significant and meaningful survey rings notes of hope and caution as we look to the future and to the next generation. Their impressive overall support for science and their concern for the environment, for example, are promising. Their need for the basic tools to discern and understand truth and for the mathematical skills required to do so require immediate attention. This survey is a call for action and an indication of the path to follow.”
– Roseann O’Reilly Runte, President and CEO, Canada Foundation for Innovation
“This important survey tells us that social media, fake news and unreliable sources can strongly influence the development of attitudes and belief systems among young people and, as a result, have a direct impact on their health, careers and societal choices. These new data reveal the urgency of adapting the ways we teach and communicate sciences to 18-24-year-olds to enrich the development of their scientific literacy.”
– Jean-Pierre Perreault, Chair of the Board, Acfas
Canada Foundation for Innovation
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About the Canada Foundation for Innovation
The Canada Foundation for Innovation makes financial contributions to Canada’s universities, colleges, research hospitals and non-profit research organizations to increase their capability to carry out high-quality research. The CFI invests in infrastructure that researchers need to think big, innovate and push the boundaries of knowledge. It helps institutions to attract and retain the world’s top talent, to train the next generation of researchers and to support world-class research that strengthens the economy and improves the quality of life for all Canadians.
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Acfas, which will be celebrating its 100th anniversary from May 2022 to June 2023, showcases knowledge as a driver of societal development by grouping together members of the research community from across the broader French-speaking world. Resolutely focused on the future, Acfas represents a powerful vector for the democratization of science and scientific communications. The association champions researchers of all disciplines, while promoting excellence in research.
Media Relations and Social Media Specialist
Canada Foundation for Innovation
benoit.clement [at] innovation.ca