Swedish women less trusting of researchers

January 11, 2018 - 06:20

Norwegian women seem to trust researchers and research more than Norwegian men do. Next door in Sweden, it’s the opposite.

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Scepticism toward researchers has increased among Swedish women. The biggest difference in attitudes towards research between the sexes in Norway mostly has to do with interests. (Photo: Shutterstock (NTB scanpix)

Norway and Sweden have both recently conducted polls that gauge public trust in research and researchers.

The Swedish VA (Public and Science) has launched its VA barometer of public confidence in researchers. The survey was based on 1000 telephone interviews with a representative sample of the Swedish population.

The non-governmental association promotes dialogue between research and the public and has conducted this survey every year since 2002.

This year's survey shows that most people trust researchers at universities and colleges a bit less than they did the year before. But trust is still relatively high.

Quite high or very high confidence in university researchers was reported by 83 per cent of respondents in the most recent poll, compared to 89 per cent the year before.

Significant drop in women's trust

In general, Swedish men continue to trust researchers as much as before. But women seem to have lost some faith in them, from 91 per cent to 76 per cent.

The difference between men and women on this question is greater now than at any time since 2002.

Maria Lindholm, VA’s Director of Research, told Swedish Radio that some of the previous year’s events – such as alternative facts becoming a topic and the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States – might have influenced Swedish women.

Trust in research shakier in Norway

No comparable Norwegian survey exists, but the market research group Kantar TNS conducted a study for the Research Council of Norway last fall. Norwegian men and women were asked about their attitudes to research. The preliminary results were presented in September.

The report gained a great deal of media attention because it revealed that Norwegians’ trust in research wasn’t that high. Four out of ten respondents agreed with the statement that research results are largely influenced by the researchers' own opinions and views.

"We have reason to be concerned about what this could mean for confidence in research," said John-Arne Røttingen, Chief Executive of the Research Council.

Norwegian women have greater trust in researchers

The day before the Christmas holidays, Roar Hind, Head of Kantar TNS Political and Social in Norway, put the finishing touches on the final report before sending it to the Research Council.

He says that they’re finding big gender differences in many areas but not in terms of the trust in research.

"Overall, Norwegian women seem to have slightly more confidence in research than Norwegian men do," Hind says.

Men in Norway tend to be more sceptical about how journalists and authorities use research results.

More men than women also believe that the researchers' own political attitudes affect their research results, although this difference between the sexes is smaller.

Big difference in interests

The Norwegian survey also shows that there is a big difference between the sexes in terms of the interest in research.

The greatest difference is in the field of medical research. Around 64 per cent of women are quite or very interested in this research, whereas only 45 per cent of men say the same.

Women are a little more interested than men in research on the environment and climate as well.

But the numbers flip when it comes to technology, with 70 per cent of men versus only 37 per cent of women saying that they are quite or very interested in the field.

Women and men are about equally interested in social research. The same goes for history, language and culture.

More men believe they’re well informed

More Norwegian men (28 per cent) than women (14 per cent) believe they’re well informed about research developments.

A higher proportion of men than women – 76 to 60 per cent, respectively – think that Norway should invest more in research than other industrialized countries do on average.

Swedes more interested in research than politics
In the Swedish survey, participants were asked to rank which area they were most interested in. The alternatives were research, culture, politics, economics and sport. Research came out on top, with 44 per cent reporting that they are quite or very interested in this.

However, 25 per cent of respondents said they’re not at all interested in research. Swedes tend to associate the word research primarily with medical research.

Half of young Swedish men want to be researchers

Swedish survey respondents were asked if they could imagine research as a career path.

Almost half of the young men in the survey responded that they could, as compared with only one in five Swedish women. A total of 146 young women and 134 young men answered this question.

Lindholm believes that this difference between the sexes may be linked to the dearth of female role models in academia.

No women won the Nobel Prize this year, for example. And Lindholm points out that the proportion of female professors is still very low.

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Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no.

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