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Skepticism about science

/ 05:08 AM December 15, 2018

Do you know that 48 percent of adult Filipinos agree that “Overall, modern science does more harm than good,” whereas only 21 percent disagree, and 31 percent can’t choose what to say?  How many Filipino scientists are aware of it?

This can be summarized as a Net Agreement of 48 minus 21, or +27.  This is the balance of opinion among Filipinos, expressed in a number.  Its algebraic sign is written out to emphasize where the balance leans.  The positive sign indicates that it leans toward anxiety, or skepticism, about modern science.

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Of 28 countries that surveyed this item nationwide in 2008, only in the Philippines did skepticism about science dominate.  For the 28 countries together, the average agreement was only 17 percent, whereas the average disagreement was 59 percent, and the average “can’t say” was 28 percent; these averages already include the Philippines.

For the 28 countries together, the Net Agreement is 17 minus 59, or -42.  The strong negative balance of opinion in the group of 28 indicates that their peoples are relatively comfortable with modern science.  Only among Filipinos is there a balance of opinion that modern science is generally harmful. Needless to say, this makes it harder to obtain public cooperation in the application of science to problems and issues in the Philippines.

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Do you know that 43 percent of adult Filipinos agree that “We trust too much in science and not enough in religious faith,” whereas only 27 percent disagree, and 30 percent can’t choose what to say?

This gives Filipinos a Net Agreement of +16, which is, again, on the skeptical side. Of the 28 countries that surveyed this item in 2008, the Philippines was the second most skeptical, after Chile (54-20 in agree-disagree percentages, or Net +34).  The only other skeptical country was Italy (with 38-30 in agree-disagree, or Net +8).

For the 28 countries together, the average agreement was only 24 percent, whereas average disagreement was 50 percent, giving a Net -26, which is socially favorable to reliance more on science than on religious faith.

I realized the depth of Filipino skepticism about science only recently, while reviewing potential materials for an invited talk on “Science and Society” at the Future Leaders Forum (11/22/18) of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST).

This is an annual gathering of scientists selected throughout the country, with all expenses paid by the NAST. I was assigned the topic on account of being a (new) member of the NAST’s social sciences division.  People in the audience were in mid-career, from all fields of science, from both government and private institutions.

For the talk, I aimed, firstly, to inform the group of the availability for research of a large collection of first-class surveys on social attitudes, designed specifically for comparing countries, one being the Philippines.

I meant the data of the International Social Survey Program (www.issp.org.ph), a partnership of national organizations (in 45 countries as of now) that jointly survey an agreed topic each year.  For social scientists worldwide, the ISSP is one of the most important sources of primary data for cross-national comparisons.  Social Weather Stations, the Philippine member of ISSP, has done all ISSP surveys since 1991.

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Secondly, I hoped to locate and display survey data on social attitudes about science itself, and thus demonstrate their pertinence to the work of the future science leaders—in teaching science, doing scientific research, and helping others to apply scientific solutions to real problems.

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TAGS: column, opinion, Science, skeptics, Social Climate, survey
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