3M's annual State of Science Index (SOSI) shows that confidence in science has grown, with 89 per cent of people globally saying that science gives them hope for the future.
After a year of lockdowns, quarantines and loss around the globe, 85 per cent of people are still hopeful that science can save us from the pandemic and 87 per cent are hopeful that science will make 2021 a better year than 2020.
The UK is one of 17 countries included in the independent study, commissioned by 3M, that has been carried out annually for the past four years to track attitudes towards science.
These key themes were explored in the 2021 survey:
• Image of science
• STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) equity
• Shared responsibility
Hope was a strong theme to emerge in the UK, with 91 per cent of people saying that science gives them hope for the future. Respondents also agreed that science can solve other problems too, such as sustainability and STEM equity gaps.
• 92 per cent recognise scientists as being critical to our future well-being in light of the pandemic
• 66 per cent agree that young people are more engaged in science and science-related issues than ever before
• The majority, 68 per cent, of Brits feel that the pandemic has made them more environmentally conscious.
Trust in science grew significantly in the UK after a year of living through lockdowns – indicating a parallel between hope and rising trust. The survey revealed that 93 per cent of Brits trust science today – a significant increase of 9 percentage points from the 2020 pre-pandemic survey.
The pandemic has renewed the focus on STEM in the UK – especially among younger generations.
• 93 per cent of Brits agreed that the world needs more people pursuing STEM related careers
• Due to the pandemic about half, 48 per cent, are more inspired to pursue a STEM career and this jumps to 58 per cent among 18-34-year-olds
• More than half, 58 per cent, believe that during the pandemic, scientists/medical professionals are inspiring a new generation to pursue science-based careers.
Increasing diversity in STEM is also a top priority.
• 87 per cent agree that it is important to increase diversity and inclusion in STEM fields
• 63 per cent acknowledge that underrepresented minority groups often do not receive equal access to STEM education. This belief is even stronger among younger adults, with 69 per cent of 18-34-year-olds agreeing
• Both men and women agree that more needs to be done to address the STEM inequities that women face and 86 per cent acknowledged that more needs to be done to keep women and girls engaged in STEM.
There was also agreement from 88 per cent of Brits that corporations should play a key role in improving diversity in STEM, for example by running programmes and events.
These findings resonate well with 3M’s goal of inspiring more young people to pursue a STEM career and the company’s recent pledge to create five million unique STEM and Skilled Trades learning experiences for underrepresented individuals by the end of 2025.
"Events of the past year have put a spotlight on the education gap within underserved communities," said Dr Jayshree Seth, 3M’s corporate scientist and chief science advocate. "Gender inequalities, and unequal access to a quality STEM education for under-resourced students, continue to affect economic outcomes across the globe. We must all do our part to create greater opportunities, by strengthening STEM investments, eliminating underrepresentation in STEM, and bridging the STEM talent gap so that we can all realise the promise of a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive society."
The pandemic has made many in the UK more environmentally conscious – although this is not as strongly felt as in other countries around the world.
• Two-thirds of Brits reported that the Covid-19 pandemic has made them more environmentally conscious, 68 per cent versus 77 per cent globally. This rise in support for the environment is largely driven by younger adults, with 80 per cent of 18-34-year-olds in the UK agreeing
• Most, 92 per cent, believe people should follow the science to help make the world more sustainable
• There is a sense of urgency around climate change that is on par with other countries around the world: A strong majority, 88 per cent, agree that better solutions to mitigate climate change need to be put in place immediately.
In addition to climate change (54 per cent), the top issues that people in the UK want science to help solve include the Covid-19 pandemic (52 per cent); ocean plastics pollution (47 per cent); access to renewable energy (39 per cent); clean water supply (30 per cent); air quality (29 per cent); hunger (28 per cent); and manufacturing/supply chain waste (19 per cent).
Turning to shared responsibility, the British see cross-border and cross-sector collaboration as essential to scientific advancement.
• 93 per cent feel that countries should collaborate to create solutions based on science to address major challenges
• 92 per cent believe that there should be more collaboration across public and private sectors to advance science.
Science is also viewed as essential to shaping, strengthening, and improving the UK.
• 94 per cent believe that investments in science make the country stronger
• 87 per cent believe that the UK economy will improve if more people pursue STEM-related careers
• 91 per cent believe that science should help drive policy decision making.
Brits also believe that corporations should help by preparing for future pandemics (56 per cent); working with government to advocate for regulations/policies that help solve global challenges (54 per cent) and investing in innovations that mitigate the effects of climate change (52 per cent).
More than half of the population, 58 per cent, agreed that science unifies people with opposing views, as opposed to dividing them.
Speaking about the global results Mike Roman, chairman of the board and chief executive officer for 3M, said: "Science is becoming more of a uniting factor as the world moves toward a common mission to build a safer, greener, stronger and more equitable future.
"The world's confidence in science is confirmed every day as we see more and more examples of its impact, from the Covid-19 recovery to advancing sustainability, making a meaningful difference."
Over the past year, 3M has joined the UN to raise awareness of epidemic preparedness using science-based information and best practices for disease prevention and response. Most recently, 3M released a white paper on best practices for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) stockpiling programmes.