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Cultural barriers hinder interest in science, shows 3M study

​​In an interview to ET’s Rica Bhattacharyya, Seth talks about the reasons for people’s confidence slipping in science, barriers to science career and the role academia can play to promote interest in science among the younger generation.

, ET Bureau|
Dec 13, 2019, 08.31 PM IST
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If people don’t trust science, if they are indifferent to it, there are consequences for the future.
MUMBAI: “Cultural and societal barriers can hinder interest in science education and science-based careers,” said Jayshree Seth, corporate scientist and chief science advocate, 3M.

In an interview to ET’s Rica Bhattacharyya, Seth talks about the reasons for people’s confidence slipping in science, barriers to science career and the role academia can play to promote interest in science among the younger generation. Edited excerpts:

1) People’s confidence in science seems to have slipped in most countries including India. The Science Trust index shows a slip from 67.2% to 62.9% in the trust in science in India. What is the reason for this and what could be done to address this?
Yes, the Science Trust Index did show a drop across many countries, including India. We don’t know why the trust slipped in rankings year over year, but I think it’s fair to look at headlines around the world as evidence that we are living in more and more uncertain times. On the flip side though, 72% of people are curious about science and 85% of people said they want to know more about science. With this curiosity comes an opportunity for education. Science skepticism and distrust is often driven by confusion or specific issues, which appropriate education, learning and communication can help eliminate.

2) What are the biggest barriers to science career in India? What role could academia play to promote interest in science among the younger generations?
Overcoming barriers is an important topic in this dialogue to promote science. Cultural and societal barriers can hinder interest in science education and science-based careers. One of the biggest obstacles to overcome is in the minds of individuals who don't believe a career in science is for them. 3M State of Science Index, our global study on attitudes and perceptions of science, found that 36% of the world believes you need to be a genius to have a career in science!

This can be a big barrier. We also found that women trail in the positive sentiment for science. This could be a direct impact of lack of role models. Encouraging more people of diverse backgrounds to pursue scientific fields can lead to increased collaboration and greater success in discovering white-space solutions. The more diversity in terms of geography and gender, culture and education – the more likely disruptive innovation can prevail. To promote interest we need to emphasize the practical applications and the connection between science and problem-solving.

3) What are the science related advancements people are most scared of in India?
Actually, unlike the rest of the world, less than half of Indians are afraid of advancements in science like human cloning (45% vs. 77% globally) and genetically modified foods (41% vs. 69% globally). Indians are also most excited for advancements like vaccines for chronic diseases (76%); space travel/tourism (75%), flying cars (68%) and driverless cars everywhere (65%).

4) Your data suggests that the world puts a premium value on human connections over AI. Could your share the specific India findings on this or the India cut for the following numbers?
Yes, human connection was valued around the globe. For instance, Indians would rather make five new friends (87%) than gain 5,000 new social media followers (13%). 74% would rather have a human assistant over a robot assistant (26%).

5) Could you tell us about the key strategies to promote STEM awareness in India?
If people don’t trust science, if they are indifferent to it, there are consequences for the future. For example, negative perceptions of science create barriers to young people entering the field, and that impacts the future innovation pipeline. This year, we’ve been sharing the results of the survey around the world and talking to people who want to join us in our quest to promote science and build awareness for the importance science plays in our everyday lives.

6) Keeping in mind the vast young population in India tell us about the scope for innovation in India? What are the challenges and what more needs to be done?
Our diversity and our youth are our strength. As the world approaches 9 billion people by 2050, we need fresh new thinking to help solve the challenges of a crowded planet. The more we all seek to find opportunities to connect young or aspiring scientists with established ones, the more we can advance the conversation around science globally. If India continues to embrace diversity and change, we will continue to advance and the results will be more than better.

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