The debate on science and society is too fast for Italians’ scientific literacy


Italians’ scientific literacy struggles to keep abreast of the ever more rapid developments in science.

The increasing complexity of issues, ranging from genetics to climate change – and their consequent intertwining with ethical, political and juridical issues – demand a type of knowledge and instruments for their comprehension that are fundamentally different and novel with respect to the ones learnt at school or acquired during one’s personal or professional experience.

Thus, nowadays one Italian out of two reckons their personal preparation to be hardly adequate for the major debates over science and over one fourth gives a clearly negative evaluation. Only 22% of the interviewees judges their preparation adequate. In this context, the possibility to attend an academic course represents an advantage. Interviewees holding a degree in fact perceive themselves as much more trained, even more than the ones holding a diploma: amongst the former 45% considers their formation quite good, amongst the latter less than 24%.

Article published by Valeria Arzenton on Nova24 – Il Sole 24 Ore, 22 May 2008.

How can we improve Italians’ education and scientific literacy? Ideas and suggestions in the comment by Massimiano Bucchi (Nova24, 22 May 2008).

The data are drawn from “Italians and Science. First report on science, technology and public opinion in Italy”, edited by Valeria Arzenton and Massimiano Bucchi; a picture of the current state of the relationship between science and citizens, a novelty to our Country.
As a whole, the study draws attention to how Italians have great faith in science, but ask for a wider involvement. 81% reckons that without investments in research Italy is destined to a decline. Scientists’ credibility is registered as very high, but critical judgements on transparency and meritocracy are present as well: 64% thinks that “in the world of research only those who stand high in somebody’s favour can advance in their careers”. Over one interviewee out of two expects a more serious commitment from researchers to inform the citizens.

For an in-depth investigation, read the major results or download a short synthesis.

The full version of the report is to be found in the volume “Science and Society Facts and Figures 2008” and is accessible in .pdf format for the members of Observa – Science in Society (password required).

The Science and Society Monitor is the first permanent research tool, established in 2003, that monitors the tendencies and trends in the Italian public opinion about research and technological innovation. Promoted by Observa – Science in Society with the support of Compagnia di San Paolo, the Monitor was created as an instrument that offers policy-maker, the media, research institutions and citizens a solid cognitive base, comparable at the international level and continuously updated, in order to foster an informed and constructive debate on the issues stemming from the relationship between science and society. It is conducted through CATI interviews on a sample of 1000 cases, representative of the Italian population over 15 years of age, under the scientific supervision of Massimiano Bucchi (University of Trento), Federico Neresini and Giuseppe Pellegrini (University of Padova) and under the management of Valeria Arzenton (Observa – Science in Society).