Rasmus Kull

Science Barometer confirms Estonians’ trust in science and researchers

The recent Estonian Science Barometer survey, commissioned by the Estonian Research Council, revealed that the Estonian population’s trust in science and researchers remains relatively high, exceeding 70%, similar to four years ago. 4% of the population distrusts science and researchers. However, the number of people who think that the government should support science more and politicians should listen to scientists more has decreased over the last four years.

In the 2020 survey, 78% of Estonian residents trusted science, compared to 73% now. Estonian-speaking respondents trust science more than Russian speakers (81% and 59%, respectively). There were more of those who do not trust science among Russian-speaking respondents (5% and 3%, respectively).

Marju Himma, Associate Professor of Journalism Studies at the University of Tartu and one of the developers of the Estonian Science Barometer methodology, said on the Kuku Radio science programme that the results were comparable to those in Finland and Sweden. The certain difference between Estonian and Russian-speaking respondents may be because there is very little Russian-language information in the Estonian media about how research in Estonia supports Estonian society. Another risk, in her view, is that Estonian media outlets do not generally produce science programmes on their own budget, but the popular science programmes presenting the science here are funded mainly by European grants.

A welcome change, according to Himma, was that while four years ago, 29% of respondents said science could be a threat to society, now there were 20% of respondents who said so. Half of the respondents say science is not a threat to society. In 2020, 45% shared this opinion. Himma thinks that this could be a sign that society’s understanding of how science works has improved.

On the other hand, there is a somewhat worrying trend: the number of people who think that the government should support science more (87% vs 78%) and that politicians should listen to scientists more (85% vs 79%) has decreased over the past four years.

There has also been a slight change in how people rate the importance of different fields of research. While they continue to regard medicine as the most important, the significance of agricultural science has increased compared to the previous survey (from fourth to second place). Also, social sciences are now considered slightly more important than four years ago. Himma admits that also in the Nordic countries, people increasingly see the benefits arising from social sciences. She thinks that the study of human behaviour and society can be expected to be perceived as more necessary than in the past due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the one hand and, on the other hand, the war in Ukraine.

The Estonian Science Barometer is a monitoring tool commissioned by the Estonian Research Council to measure people’s attitudes towards science and their exposure to it. The survey had a representative sample of 1,004 people aged 16 and over across Estonia. It was conducted by Turu‑uuringute AS in November 2023.

Listen to the interview with Marju Himma on the Kuku Radio programme “Teadus teab” (“Science knows”, in Estonian).

Results of the Estonian Science Barometer are available on the website of the Estonian Research Council:
Results of the 2023 survey

Results of the 2020 survey

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