Most support govt funding for research: Study

NTU dons' survey is 1st of its kind here to gauge public views on science

Most people here support the billions being pumped into local research, although they do not always understand science.

In a new study, which surveyed close to 1,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents, 81.7 per cent agreed that science keeps the economy competitive. Meanwhile, 83.7 per cent supported the Government's funding of research and technology, even though respondents were found, overall, to have uneven scientific literacy.

The study, the first of its kind here, was led by Associate Professor Shirley Ho and Assistant Professor Juliana Chan from Nanyang Technological University.

The survey wanted mainly to find out public views and attitudes towards science and technology issues in Singapore.

Participants responded to 80 questions online, and were asked to indicate the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with statements about science. Slightly more than half of the respondents were aged between 35 and 54.

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Singapore is gearing up to be a global leader in its various R&D projects, such as the Smart Nation initiative. To do so, policymakers and scientists must receive the support from their No.1 stakeholders - the general public, and the first step is to find out what they are thinking.

ASSISTANT PROFESSOR JULIANA CHAN, from Nanyang Technological University, on the need to publicise scientific findings

Prof Chan said such surveys are done annually in developed countries with strong academic and industrial research and development (R&D) records, such as the United States.

She said: "Until now, a comprehensive survey such as this has not been carried out before in Singapore. Public R&D expenditure is increasing... Singapore is gearing up to be a global leader in its various R&D projects, such as the Smart Nation initiative.

"To do so, policymakers and scientists must receive the support from their No. 1 stakeholders - the general public, and the first step is to find out what they are thinking."

Among other findings, the study also noted that, while respondents had a good knowledge of some areas in science, such as reproduction and technology, they fared badly in topics such as antibiotics and genetically modified foods.

For instance, 7.5 per cent did not know if antibiotics could kill viruses as well as bacteria, and 46 per cent thought they could.

"This is surprising, given that doctors in Singapore commonly prescribe antibiotics in person... It is also alarming, given concerns that overuse of antibiotics has led to a rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria," the study said.

To bridge the knowledge gap, Prof Ho said, scientists can use social media platforms to publicise new research findings and engage the public to discuss them online, in addition to publishing their findings in academic journals.

Professor Raj Thampuran, managing director at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), noted that communicating complex scientific concepts simply is important as it helps the public to appreciate the value of research and development.

To that end, A*Star has launched initiatives such as A*Star TV - an info-documentary series on YouTube that explains A*Star science and technology simply.

The Government has committed $16.1 billion under the current five-year Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2015 plan, which supports public and private research and development. This is about a 20 per cent increase from the $13.6 billion allocated from 2006 to 2010.

•The study report will be published today at www.asianscientist.com/sgsciencesurvey/

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2015, with the headline 'Most support govt funding for research: Study'. Print Edition | Subscribe