Are Italians really ‘Illiterate’ with regard to science?

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A new survey by Observa’s Science in Society Monitor is published on Nova24, the science and technology supplement of the Italian newspaper “Il Sole 24 Ore”

Many of the problems in the relationship between science and society are often attributed to people’s ignorance on science issues. But are Italians really ‘illiterate’ when it comes to science?

The latest data from the Observa’s Science in Society Monitor gives us some interesting elements for reflecting on this theme. Interviewees were asked to assess whether certain statements were true or false.

From the results we gather that for one in four Italians the sun is not a planet and that antibiotics are as effective against virusis as they are against bacteria. Six out of ten people ignore that “electrons are smaller than atoms”.

The situation looks a bit more hopeful when in other areas: three out of four Italians know that DNA is a characteristic of living organisms and seven out of ten are sure that not all primary numbers are even numbers.

Data can also be analysed in a comparative perspective. In this light, Italians appear to be not very far from the European average. The percentage of correct answers to the questions about antibiotics were the same in Europe (43%) and Italy (42%) and those on electrons were answered correctly by 26% of Italians and 29% in Europe, although “don’t know” responses were higher in Italy.

Scientific ‘literacy’ is stronger among males and young people and increases with the level of education, but 23% of those with a university degree are still convinced that the sun is a planet. ).

This article was published in Nova24, the scientific supplement of the newspaper Il Sole 24 ore on Thursday, May 10th, 2007.

Data and results can be downloaded here (Italian version).

The Science in Society Monitor has been created in order to furnish a solid knowledge base for discussion among researchers, citizens and policy-makers and it is the very first effort to monitor trends in Italian public opinion concerning technological research and innovation

It is an initiative by the research center Observa – Science in Society, realized thanks to the contribution of the Foundation Compagnia di San Paolo.

The research supervisors of the Monitor are Massimiano Bucchi (University of Trento), Federico Neresini and Giuseppe Pellegrini (University of Padua), in association with Valeria Arzenton.

The survey was conducted by means of CATI-method telephone interviews with a sample of 988 subjects, stratified by gender, age, and geographical area of residence, and representing the Italian population aged 15 and over.