TECH
28/08/2017 1:54 PM AEST | Updated 28/08/2017 2:57 PM AEST

Are We Better Informed On Science Than Ever? Most Aussies Think So

But we're still divided when it comes to climate change, childhood vaccinations and genetic modification.

Australians feel better informed about science than ever -- but less than half believe in human-induced climate change and one in eight don't think all Australian children should be vaccinated.

These are among the findings of a report, The Australian Beliefs and Attitudes Towards Science Survey, released by the Australian National University on Monday.

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Australian schools are plummeting down the international rankings when it comes to maths and science, yet most Australians believe they are better informed than ever.

The researchers surveyed 1,203 people across all states and territories to assess Australians' perception of scientists and important issues like vaccination, fracking and nuclear energy, and compared the results to a previous survey conducted by the ANU in 2010.

Australians now believe that scientists contribute more to society than any other profession, overtaking doctors and teachers in the past seven years. More than four out of five respondents said scientists 'contribute a lot'.

But they do not enjoy equal levels of prestige as their medical counterparts, with just over 60 percent of respondents ranking the profession as 'very prestigious' -- compared to more than 70 percent for doctors.

Professions Rated As Contributing Most To Society:

1. Scientists

2. Doctors

3. Farmers

4. Teachers

Professions Rated As Contributing Least:

1. Priests or ministers of religion

2. Politicians

3. Journalists

4. Entertainers

Almost all Australians (90 percent) believe that, overall, science has made our lives easier and almost as many (80 percent) say the benefits have been greater than the harmful effects. But almost half of us want the pace of change to slow down.

The majority of Australians also remain 'very interested' in news on health, the environment and scientific and medical breakthroughs.

But in turn, we've become a less sporty nation, with more than a third (41.3 percent) saying they were 'not at all interested' in sports news -- double that with no interest in politics.

And despite falling enrollments in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects at both high school and university level, almost 70 percent of people believe they are at least fairly well informed about science -- up from 60 percent seven years ago.

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Almost two thirds of Australians believe that using pesticides on crops makes food unsafe.

This is despite recent studies indicating that Australia is plummeting in the international rankings when it comes to our maths and science education, with one study by UNICEF ranking only Romania and Turkey as worse when it comes to the basics of maths, science and reading for high school students.

When it comes to controversial and politicised scientific debates, however, the community's opinions do not always match up with the scientific consensus.

Four out of five Australians believe there is solid evidence that the planet is warming. But of these, only slightly over half (53.6 percent) attribute this to human activity -- despite 97 percent of scientists agreeing this is the case.

Interestingly, when it comes to food safety, Australians are more concerned with the use of pesticides in farming than with genetic modification of produce.

With close to two thirds of Aussies believing that eating foods grown using pesticides was generally unsafe, it's no wonder the organic food market in Australia is growing at an exponential rate (it's currently worth around $1 billion).

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One in eight Aussies are still against compulsory childhood vaccinations, despite a huge push by the government and medical authorities.
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By contrast, a little over a third were worried about eating foods that had been genetically modified.

When it comes to the divisive topic of childhood vaccinations, almost everyone had a strong opinion, with just ten survey respondents saying they were undecided on the issue.

And while Australians were overall more supportive of compulsory vaccinations against the likes of measles and rubella than in the US (where almost a third say parents should be able to decide), one in eight still don't support them.

Australians are also more supportive than our US counterparts of using artificial organs for transplants in humans, with 84.5 percent supporting it.

And while more than half of us (59.7 percent) support using technology to prevent serious diseases in infants, the clear majority (87 percent) thought that doing the same thing in order to make the baby more intelligent was going too far.