Nearly half of Canadians wrongly believe the science on climate change is still “unclear”, and the proportion has increased by nearly 20% in the last year, according to a poll conducted in mid-August by Léger Marketing.
In the poll, released this week by the Ontario Science Centre to mark Science Literacy Week, 47% agreed that “the science behind global warming is still unclear,” up from 40% in 2016.
“I think these are worrisome results,” said Science Centre CEO Maurice Bitran. “If you think that climate change is one of the main issues that we face as a society, and almost half of us think that the science is still unclear when there’s a pretty broad scientific consensus about it, this affects the chances that we have to act in a unified way about it.”
Bitran said the four in 10 respondents who see science as a matter of opinion showed “a lack of understanding of the scientific method.”
Other findings in the poll “suggest a lack of trust in science and media coverage of scientific issues,” CBC reports: 68% believe science is “reported selectively to support news media objectives”; 59% think media present scientific issues “to support a political position”; and 31% agree that “because scientific ideas are fluid and subject to change, they can’t be trusted”.
Dawn Sutherland, Canada Research Chair in Science Education in Cultural Contexts at the University of Winnipeg, said the survey design may have driven the apparently extreme results, and pointed to some positive numbers coming out of the survey: 82% of respondents said they “would like to know more about science and how it affects our world”, while 79% said they were comfortable “knowing that scientific answers may not be definitive”.
University of Ottawa science communication researcher Kelly Bronson faulted media for trying too hard to find both sides in stories where the science clearly points in one direction. “It doesn’t help the public learn how to distinguish true knowledge from mere opinion if both are given equal weight in a news story,” she told CBC. She noted that some would-be opinion-makers “actively try to use a certain degree of legitimate scientific uncertainty” to spread misinformation and mistrust of science.