Eurobarometer: Europeans want a balance between ethics and scientific progress

Europeans want ethics to play an essential role in scientific research and demand harmony between the methods and goals of scientific research and moral and ethical principles, show two recent Eurobarometer surveys.

Results of the two surveys show Europeans’ strong attachment to social values and ethics even though a majority gives priority to objectivity over moral and ethical issues as far as science and technology decision-making process is concerned. Seventy nine per cent of Europeans think that the authorities should formally oblige scientists to respect ethical standards and that in cases of potential conflict between a scientific application and ethics, public authorities’ regulation and control are essential.

The results also show that there is a “latent” interest among Europeans for science and technology and implicit demand for more information. The positive role scientists play in society is widely recognised but the way scientists handle information towards the public is criticised. 

Further, a clear majority (60 per cent) of Europeans indicates that science makes our ways of life change too fast. While these responses may reflect a certain fear of scientific developments, they also acknowledge the progress of science and the gap which has appeared between scientific innovation and society.  

In addition, the two surveys point out that:

  • Europeans strongly agree that science and technology improve their quality of life;
  • 54 per cent of Europeans think that food made from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) is dangerous;
  • those not interested in science and technology state “lack of understanding and lack of concern” as their main reasons;
  • the majority of Europeans think that technological advances will lead to more job losses than jobs created;
  • 76 per cent back their government to fund research, even without immediate benefits;
  • 50 per cent think that basic research is essential for the development of new technologies;
  • a clear majority thinks that the United States is more advanced than Europe in research;
  • people do not judge scientific research on its immediate results but more on what is made out of these results.

Two special Eurobarometers entitled 'Europeans, science and technology' and 'Values, science and technology' were published in June 2005. 

The main objective of the 'Europeans, science and technology' poll was to gather Europeans’ general attitudes towards science and technology. It analysed European citizens’ interest in and knowledge and image of science and technology as well as their attitudes towards these domains.

The underlying objective of the 'Values, science and technology' poll was to gather Europeans’ views on social values and ethics as well as citizens’ perceptions of actors involved in science and technology as well as the decision-making procedure. The final objective was to assess the perceived influence of ethics on science and technology in the future.

The studies cover the populations of the EU member states, of the candidate countries (Bulgaria, Romania Croatia and Turkey) and the three EFTA countries (Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) - a total of 570 million people.

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