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Estonian Science Barometer: Estonians’ trust in science is extraordinarily strong

Photo credit: Unsplash, Ruthson Zimmerman
Photo credit: Unsplash, Ruthson Zimmerman
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Estonians’ trust in science is very high (78%) and most Estonians see scientists and researchers as experts based on the newly published report by the Estonian Science Barometer on the personal relationship between the Estonian people and science, as well as their attitudes towards the relations between science and society. The authors of the study also provided recommendations to politicians, scientists and researchers, and science communicators.

“A trust as high as this in science, scientists and researchers reveal that Estonians believe in science,” notes Mare Ainsaar, the leading author of the study of the Estonian Science Barometer and senior research fellow of sociology and social politics at the University of Tartu. Estonian-speakers, men, people under 65 years of age, and those with higher education, Master’s or Doctoral degree are the most interested in science. Estonians’ interest in science is similar to that in Finland but is higher than in Sweden or Switzerland.

“It is quite an interesting comparison; in Estonia, 89% of people see scientists and researchers as experts, but in Germany, for example, only 64% of people trust scientists and researchers to be experts,” describes Marju Himma-Kadakas, one of the authors of the study. “Scientists must always speak up in the society owing to their advice and knowledge. The advice must be clear and comprehensible, keeping in mind the people who might need a more easily understandable explanation,” notes Himma-Kadakas. As the study revealed, mistrust occurs among the elderly and the less educated. Therefore, the authors of the study recommend consciously mediating and explaining science-related topics to older people, people who don’t speak Estonian or have a lower level of education.

The support for financing science and research and relying on a science-based society is also remarkably high in Estonia. 90% of Estonian residents agree that scientific research is necessary, even if there is no instant benefit, and 87% of the people think that the state should support research more. Scientists have quite a strong position in helping to manage state affairs already, but 85% of the Estonian people thought that politicians should listen to scientists and researchers more often.

“We already had a feeling that Estonians believed in science. Such a high percentage of respondents who support science was a pleasant surprise. Partly, this can be explained by the fact that the survey was conducted during the global pandemic when most people turned to scientists for answers. Then again, all results of the study confirm that Estonian residents are citizens of a science-based society, who wish to know more of the work that scientists and researchers do, and expect politicians and officials to base their decisions on scientific evidence. As the authors say in their recommendations, decisions and actions must be based on science in a justified and transparent manner,” states Karin Jaanson, Executive Director of the Estonian Research Council.

“Surprisingly many people, 42% of the respondents, think that there is too little information in the media about science, and a whopping 82% find that scientists should inform the public about the results of their work more than they have thus far. This proves that scientists and researchers, specialists in science communication and journalists have their work set out for them—Estonians expect news about science!” says Annely Allik, head of the department of science communication at the Estonian Research Council.

The authors of the study recommend supporting scientists in science communication on the national as well as organisation level. This support may come in the form of efforts from communication specialists, money, time, technical service, etc. “An excellent recommendation to be pursued in the universities, as well as the Research Council, is offering topic-specific training for science communication specialists. The best communication managers are often very well informed about their field of science, which is why sending the communication department to train with the scientists might not be a bad idea,” Allik adds.

The Estonian Science Barometer (Eesti Teadusbaromeeter, ETb) is a monitoring tool scientifically developed and adapted to Estonian circumstances, which measures the attitudes of Estonian people towards science and their exposure to it. The research was conducted as part of the RITA 4 programme to support research and development activities in the field. The aim of the project is to develop a methodology that would allow comparing Estonia to other countries; it is also partly based on similar barometers developed abroad. The project involved conducting phone interviews in July 2020 with 1,000 Estonian residents over 16 years of age. The interview provides answers to questions on how important science is to the Estonian people, whether their everyday decisions are based on scientific facts and evidence, how important is the position of scientists and researchers in the society, the sources from which people get information about science, whether there is enough of it, whether it is in a suitable form, and what the Estonian people know about the work of scientists and researchers. The surveys are to be conducted every five years.

Additional information:
Mare Ainsaar
Senior research fellow of sociology and social politics at the University of Tartu and head of the study of the Estonian Science Barometer
Tel. +372 517 8132
mare.ainsaar@ut.ee

Karin Jaanson
Estonian Research Council
Executive Director
Tel. +372 53 433 107
karin.jaanson@etag.ee

This article was first published on the Estonian Research Council webpage. 

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