Interest, knowledge, attitudes – comparing science surveys in Korea and Germany
11. Mai 2017
Measuring public attitudes towards science and research is not a uniquely German thing and of course science surveys like the science barometer also exist in other countries. In Korea, for example, data on scientific literacy and interest in science and technology is collected by the Korea Foundation for the Advancement of Science & Creativity (KOFAC).
But are Koreans more interested in science? Where do they get their news about technology and research? And do they hold significantly different attitudes towards science than Germans? Together with our visiting colleague from KOFAC, JungSoon Lee, we decided to dig into the numbers a little. We could only draw limited comparisons between the results of the two surveys due to differences in the survey design and the way questions are asked, but what we found was interesting.
The Korean science barometer
With multiple waves since 2000, the survey aims to identify the public’s interest, knowledge, attitudes and sources of information regarding science and technology as well as to investigate the perception of current issues in science. By providing this information, the Korean survey reveals potential needs to improve the public understanding and knowledge of science and technology as well as providing a foundation to establish strategies for disseminating and promoting science and technology to the public.
With a sample size of 1,000 adults and 500 students the Korean survey sample is slightly bigger than the sample for the German science barometer and asks questions regarding:
- interest and understanding of science and technology and its issues,
- perception of the level of science and technology in Korea,
- perception of and attitudes to careers in science and technology,
- perception of and attitudes to science education,
- people’s image of science and scientists/engineers,
- interest and understanding issues of science and technology,
- interest and participation in science activities.
Interest in science
Both surveys capture participants’ interest in science: Based on the survey results in 2014, Koreans’ interest in science has slightly decreased since 2012. In 2014, 18% showed strong interest in science, 55% had some interest and 26% showed no interest. Interestingly, people who had greater interest in science also thought that scientific discoveries and new inventions were closely related to their lives and that they were important to Korean society.
Looking at Germany, the results from the German science barometer 2014 show that – despite the different style of questions (Korea: average subjective interest in 10 scientific fields on a three-point-scale; Germany: subjective interest in science in general on a five-point-scale) a comparable proportion of respondents (46%) had a moderate interest in science. Looking at the other interest levels: more Germans than Koreans stated that they have a strong interest in science (33%) while 22% showed a (rather) low interest.
So where do Koreans and Germans turn in order to satisfy their curiosity for science? Again comparisons are hard to draw due to the different designs of the questions but in both countries information sources such as newspapers, TV programmes and the internet are of course important. In Korea, information on science is primarily received from newspapers: About 80% of respondents in Korea answered that they read articles on research in newspapers (everyday 63%). 50% answered that they get information on science from the internet (everyday 29%) and also half of the respondents stated that they get scientific knowledge from TV programmes (everyday 18%).
In Germany, according to the science barometer 2015, TV programmes are the main source for information about science and research. 90% stated that they watch programmes with scientific content, with 30% watching them often. For print media the German results are comparable to the results for the Korean population, about 84% of Germans read articles on science in newspapers or magazines (22% often). 66%, again slightly higher numbers than in Korea, responded that they get their information about science and research from the internet (18% often).
So we see different rankings of main information sources regarding science and research in the two countries which is interesting but once again needs to be evaluated with regard to different questionnaire designs: In the Korean survey, the participants were asked how often they get scientific knowledge from certain media, meaning the survey measures how much they are exposed to it, while in the German science barometer the respondents are asked how often they use certain media when seeking information on science. The questions in Germany imply an active search whereas the Korean questions imply a more casual exposure to news about science.
Science, technology, research … what are the surveys about?
It is also interesting to consider the two surveys in their cultural contexts: Whilst in the Korean survey the terms ‘science’ (meaning natural science) and ‘technology’ are used almost interchangeably, the German survey mostly uses the term ‘science and research’ (meaning the natural sciences as well as the social sciences and humanities). Therefore it is not surprising that about 73% of Korean respondents strongly or somewhat agreed that for them science and technology are the same. This attitude can be explained by Korea’s fast economic development (the so called ‘miracle of Han river’) which is based on research in science leading to the implementation of technologies and the establishment of industries such as shipbuilding, semiconductors, displays etc.
Rather similar results for both countries can be found when asking people which scientific topics are most important for them. 72% of Korean adults are primarily interested in health & medicine while students are mostly interested in information & communication technology (56%). Both adults and students responded in 2014 that ‘climate change’ is the most influential issue on society. As part of the German science barometer people are asked which area of research they personally regard as most important for the future. In 2014, half of the respondents chose "health & nutrition". Another 37% thought "climate & energy" was the most important research area. Just as information and communication are big issues for Korean students, 18% of German students chose ‘communication and digitalisation’ as the most important research topic (higher than the overall result of 3%).
Public spending on and involvement in science
In both countries people are in favour of public funding of science: Asked if they agree with increased investments in Korea’s scientific development and research, 22% of respondents strongly agreed and about 68% somewhat agreed. Results of the German science barometer 2014 also show broad support for public spending on science with half of the participants (53%) thinking that if budget cuts are required, research budgets should preferably not be cut, and another 42% stating that science budgets should be reduced proportional to cutbacks in other areas.
Despite cultural differences, people both in Korea as well as in Germany are in favour of public involvement in science: 11% of respondents in the Korean survey agreed that citizens should be actively involved in making policy for science and technology and about 66% said that citizens should have some involvement. Only 23% of respondents said there is no need to get involved or they did not know how to respond. The German science barometer also raises questions about how people perceive public involvement in decisions about science and research: In 2014, only 21% fully or rather agreed that the public is sufficiently involved in decisions about science and research; 47% did not or rather not agree. In keeping with these results, 33% fully or rather agreed on the statement that for them personally it is be important to be involved in such decisions. When asked who should decide about spending within research, nearly half of the respondents said that citizens should do so. 29% held the opinion that scientists should make these decisions themselves and only 11% chose politicians.
So what does it mean?
Comparing the two science surveys from Germany and Korea, we see a lot of similarities. People in both countries are interested in science and especially in health issues. Also respondents from both countries think that it is important for the public to be involved in decision making about research and are in favour of public spending on science. At the same time, we found some interesting differences regarding the focus on technology as part of science and research in Korea and variations in how people inform themselves about scientific news.
For us, as science communicators, the results of such surveys are very important since they can tell us which ways of communicating with the public are actually successful and they can help to identify research topics which are or will be of importance to the broader population. In order to make these survey more helpful in the future, it is important to have simple and precise but at the same time comprehensive questionnaires and to regularly collect data. Ideally some aspects of the surveys could be internationally standardised so that comparisons could not only be drawn not just over time but also between different countries, including Korea and Germany.
Link to KOFAC: www.kofac.re.kr./eng
Link to German science barometer: www.sciencebarometer.com