Investing in research is an increasing priority for Italian citizens, but critical judgments still remain

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The new edition of the 2010 Science in Society Facts and Figures, edited by Observa – Science in Society thanks to the support of Compagnia San Paolo and published by Il Mulino

Research grows among investment priorities according to Italian citizens (from 16% to 23%), but critical judgements on its organisation remain widespread.

The sensitivity of Italians towards investments in research has increased: investing in this field (23%) is now considered more important than in other areas, like for example security. Only health services and education overcome research in terms of priority and public expenses. According to the Italian public, the top priority in terms of research investments remains the field of renewable energies (46% with a growing trend), followed by research on climate changes (12%, with a decreasing trend) and biotechnologies (9%).

In particular, among young interviewees, two out of three (65%) reckon that the Italian government should invest more into research (a much higher proportion compared to the European average, 39.8%).

In 2009, the level of scientific of literacy of Italians records a slight improvement, although relevant gaps in knowledge remain: almost two thirds are not aware that electrons are smaller than atoms.

The exposure to scientific contents in the media is stable, with the TV acknowledged as the most used medium. The use of websites and blogs in order to get information about science and technology is also growing, a visible increase especially among the youngest: among people aged 20-29, more than one out of three frequently surf the net looking for scientific-technological news. 11% of the articles on online Italian newspapers deal in general terms with science and technology issues: the new media monitoring by Observa indicate that particular attention is focused on themes in the areas of IT, medicine and physics.

The interest for museums and exhibitions dedicated to science, meeting and public debates with scientists slightly increases, too – but also protest and mobilisation on science and technology issues raises.

According to Massimiano Bucchi, professor in Science Technology and Society at the University of Trento and editor of the Facts and Figures: “These are signals of an increasing consciousness of the relevance of science which is coupled with ambivalent and critical judgements”.

The trust in scientists, however, remains high: three Italians out of four trust scientists when it comes to issues that involve science and technology. More than two Italians out of three, however, believe that science and technology are changing our way of life “too quickly” and acknowledge the so-called “precautionary principle”, reckoning that if there wasn’t the certainty that a technology was harmless, it would be better to give up on it, at least temporarily.

Finally, the judgement on some organisational aspects of research remains very critical: according to 63%, personal connections rather than merit would lead the recruiting of researchers in Italy.

Read also the press releases in pdf format:

Human resources and new generations: key challenges for Italian and European research according to the data of the 2010 Science in Society Facts and Figures

Investing in research is an increasing priority for Italian citizens, but critical judgments still remain

Read also the contribution by Helga Nowotny, President of ERC – European Research Company:

25 years of public understanding of science: what next?

Info at Observa Press Office: 0444 305454, observa@observanet.it