Responding to the publication of a survey on EU attitudes to science and technology, experts blamed "lazy" researchers for failing to promote their projects, leading to a declining sense of optimism about the positive influence of science in Europe.
The results of the Special Eurobarometer survey were revealed yesterday (21 June) in Brussels, following two months of fieldwork in all 27 EU member states earlier this year (January and February 2010).
While 79% of citizens said they were very or moderately interested in scientific and technological developments, a lower number of people than in 2005 said they were optimistic about the effects of these developments in society.
Professor Marja Makarow, chief executive of the European Science Foundation (ESF), told EURACTIV that this decline, while marginal, was both "surprising and frustrating".
Makarow also lamented the fact so few Europeans (11%) feel very well informed about new scientific discoveries and technological development. Only half of those questioned felt they were even moderately informed.
Scientists – too 'lazy and self-contented' to inform citizens?
The ESF boss blamed the EU research community for this, arguing that scientists are "often too scared of the public" to undertake the necessary promotion of their work that would make science and tech feature more prominently in mainstream society.
She scathingly went on to claim that many members of the research community are too "lazy and self-contented" to provide this important service. "Talking to the public requires a certain talent that not many scientists have," she said.
The solution from the policymakers' perspective, argued Makarow, is to gear EU strategies for "lifelong learning" towards feeding the public desire for more training and knowledge in this area.
Involve women and youth more
The survey also addressed a long-running debate in EU circles, namely the consensus view that women are currently under-represented in the field of scientific research (EURACTIV 21/10/08).
75% think their government should support specific measures to improve women's representation in the scientific professions, while 63% think that if more women were represented in top research positions, this would improve the way research is conducted.
66% of respondents also thought that their government was not doing enough to stimulate young people's interest in science.
Despite these negatives, Makarow identified a number of broadly positive trends arising from the survey. The ESF boss said, for example, that it was "quite satisfying" to see that 79% had an interest in scientific and technical discoveries, and that Europeans overall had a positive view about the image of science and technology.
"The full capacity of research endeavours to promote the cultural, societal and economic development of our societies can only be unleashed through a novel pact between researchers, policymakers and society," she concluded.