Accepted Paper:

Is ethnicity relevant for understanding public attitudes to science?  


Andrew Smart (Bath Spa University)

Paper long abstract:

This paper discusses how UK surveys of public attitudes to science have attended to ethno-religious diversity. It addresses a current STS concern with how the public is defined and constituted (in this case, in surveys of public attitudes). The paper is based on an analysis of documents from the last two Public Attitudes to Science reports (PAS2011 and PAS2014). The aim is to examine how ethno-religious differences are constructed, characterized and explained. It is shown that one objective of PAS2011 was to explore variation across demographic subgroups, and that it contained 21 comments relating to ethnic differences. These were boiled down to two key messages: people from ethnic minority backgrounds: 1) have a greater desire to be involved in public consultations on science, but 2) this is motivated by a distrust of science due to cultural or religious factors. In contrast, PAS2014 no longer aimed to understand demographic subgroup differences and routine references to ethnicity all but disappeared. However, PAS2014 became the first survey in the series to ask respondents about religious beliefs. Notably, in PAS2011 an 'attitudinal segment' termed the 'Concerned' had been characterized by their ethnicity; in PAS2014 the 'Concerned' were defined by religiosity, with particular attention given to Muslims. This paper considers what this shift from ethnicity to religiosity reflects and represents. Furthermore, it argues that inclusive public engagement with science would be better achieved by improving understanding of ethnicity, not by expunging it from the picture.

Panel C2
Solidarity and plurality: Dimensions of 'the public' in scientific engagement