Almost half of Canadians think science is a "matter of opinion"

Bad news for the country that discovered insulin.

Bad news for the country that discovered insulin.

(Credit: Getty Images)

It turns out science might be in trouble in Canada.

In a survey done last month for the Ontario Science Centre, nearly half of Canadians — 43 percent — said that science was "a matter of opinion."

The survey was done by Leger online and polled 1,514 Canadians. It was conducted on Aug. 15-16, and done for Science Literacy Week, which started yesterday. According to the survey, Science Literacy Week is also desperately needed. Thirty three percent of Canadians consider themselves "scientifically illiterate": 30% of men and a whopping 43% percent of women.

The news gets worse. A third of Canadians believe "science can't be trusted since it always subject to change". Almost half of the respondents (47%) said that the science behind global warming was unclear. That was up from last year's survey, where only 40% of people felt that way. If you were hoping that young Canadians were going to be more scientifically literate than their elders, prepare to be disappointed. The belief that vaccines cause autism— a belief that has been thoroughly discredited by the scientific community—was highest among millennials (24%).

No surprise, but according to the press release, the CEO of the OSC finds this a little disconcerting!

"This breakdown in trust has serious consequences for Canada because our future health, prosperity and security all depend on making important, sometimes difficult, decisions based on scientific findings," said Dr. Maurice Bitran, CEO and Chief Science Officer, Ontario Science Centre. 

Now we're concerned.

So why do Canadians have so little faith in science? Perhaps in part, you can blame the media? Seventy-nine percent believe the nebulously defined "fake news" is damaging the public's perception of science, and 59% believe scientific news is presented to support a political position. Sixty-eight percent of Canadians believe scientific news is reported selectively, to support media objectives, while 30 percent say they don't have the ability to follow science reports in the media.

So what does this mean for Canadian science? Will the country that discovered insulin, mapped the visual cortex and invented the Jolly Jumper never have another great scientific breakthrough? Maybe all is not lost. There is some good news.

Eighty-one percent of Canadians believe science is based on objective facts, and the same number believe scientific findings are objective facts. Sixty-eight percent of Canadians are concerned about fake news affecting their understanding of science. Almost nine out of 10 Canadians trust museums and science centres (89%), scientists (88%) and educational institutions (87%). Eight out of 10 Canadians believe more funding should be dedicated to scientific education and research. Most importantly, 82% of Canadians want to learn more about science.