Positive but not uncritical: Perceptions of science and technology amongst South African online users

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DOI:

https://doi.org/10.17159/sajs.2022/11102

Keywords:

perceptions of science and technology, promises and reservations, sources of scientific information, South Africa, online survey

Abstract

Public perceptions of science and technology (S&T) have been measured globally since the 1970s. While there are initial findings for South Africans’ general and specific perceptions of S&T, we aimed to give an update on those perceptions, and account for the recent rise of digital media and broad public discussions on S&T-related issues (e.g. COVID-19) that might have affected public perceptions of S&T. We conducted an online survey with a sample of South African online users, quoted for sociodemographic characteristics, in November/December 2020 (n=1624). The findings show that, even with the rise of digital media and during the pandemic, a majority of respondents in this sample agreed that S&T holds promise, and they supported governmental funding of science. However, some reservations persisted. Gender and education did not affect these attitudes. It was rather age, location, degree of religiosity, interest, knowledge, use of sources of information, online engagement, and trust in science that were linked with these attitudes. In this sample, agreement to public funding of science correlated with beliefs in the promises associated with S&T as well as with having reservations about S&T.

Significance:

  • Our sample of South African online users agreed more to promises associated with S&T than they had reservations about S&T.
  • Attitudes regarding S&T-related promises and reservations varied by age and location, and showed links with the interest in, knowledge about, use of sources of information on, and online engagement with S&T.
  • Having reservations about S&T was nonetheless linked with support for governmental funding of science.
  • The findings also indicate that social media were highly relevant sources of information about science for this sample of South African online users, who generally had high levels of interest in, knowledge about, and trust in science.

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Published

2022-09-29

How to Cite

Guenther, L., Reif, A., Taddicken, M. ., & Weingart, P. (2022). Positive but not uncritical: Perceptions of science and technology amongst South African online users. South African Journal of Science, 118(9/10). https://doi.org/10.17159/sajs.2022/11102

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Research Article

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