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Young Spaniards trust science less than older people

According to a study by UC3M and USC


Research by the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) and the University of Santiago de Compostela (USC) that analyses how Spaniards kept themselves informed during the COVID-19 pandemic and their perception of the role of journalists, the media, the scientific community and government and health authorities during the pandemic concludes that young people trust science less than older people, among other issues.

Los jóvenes españoles confían menos en la ciencia que la gente mayor

72.6% of 18-24 year-olds agree that science seeks the truth and makes it public, while 90.2% of adults over 65 support this statement. In addition, the percentage of young people in the same age group who believe that science is a danger to humanity is almost triple those who hold this view among older people. These are some of the findings of this study, recently published by these UC3M and USC researchers in the journal Profesional de la Información.

These results suggest a growing distrust in science among young people, which explains, for example, the lack of scientific vocations in this segment. "Young people don't want to go into careers in science, technology and mathematics, because they believe that science is not a method for the search for truth and even that it is dangerous for the future of human beings," says one of the study's authors, Carlos Elías, a Professor of Journalism in UC3M's Department of Communication.

"It is paradoxical, and very worrying, that the generations with the greatest access to information and education, the best educated in the history of Spain, are the ones that consume the least information and are the most distrustful of science and journalism, two fields that share the search for truth. We must reflect deeply on what is happening," says Alberto Quian, a lecturer of Journalism at USC and co-author of the study.

The results of this work show that age and ideology are the factors that have the greatest effect on the use of different types of information sources. With regard to the consumption of traditional media, the people who consult them most are those at the political centre, while those on the left tend to rely more on official sources (such as health authorities); in contrast to those on the right, who prefer research organisations (such as the CSIC, the Carlos III Institute, etc.) or universities. On the other hand, "anti-vaxxers, however, prefer alternative sources (programmes such as Cuarto Milenio or La Estirpe de los Libres, for example). And this is because the traditional media support vaccines," the researchers point out.

This work, funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the Community of Madrid and the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation, is based on a descriptive survey of a sample of 1,800 people, representative of the Spanish population, of legal age and residents of the 17 autonomous communities, carried out between the 6th and 22nd of June 2022.

The results of this work could be applied in the field of education and public policy, according to the researchers. "I think we need to influence schools, colleges and universities, in something called 'educommunication', so that young people understand what the reliable sources are and the implications of science and the scientific method," says Carlos Elías. 

More information: Quian, Alberto; Elías, Carlos; Soengas-Pérez, Xosé (2023). “Consumption of information and citizen’s perception of the sources consulted during the Covid-19 pandemic: A study of the situation based on opinion polls”. Profesional de la información, v. 32, n. 4, e320413.