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3M: Trust in science remains high, but misinformation threatens the future

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People want to hear more from scientists, solve climate change,  and increase equitable access in healthcare and STEM, global study by 3M finds  

Image from THEPHILBIZNEWS/MAS

People in Asia Pacific continue to trust science, but this could be undermined by misinformation. Still, people see opportunities for science to solve social issues, including climate change, and equity in healthcare and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) – these were some of the key findings from the 3M State of Science Index 2022, a global science perception survey. The survey, commissioned by global science company 3M, was fielded across 17 countries around the world, with about 1,000 respondents from each country.

Jim Falteisek, Senior Vice President, 3M Asia Corporate Affairs and Managing Director of 3M Korea

“Society continues to value and trust in science even as we enter post-pandemic recovery, but we need to continue paving ways for credible science communication, to connect the dots between science and issues that matter the most,” said Jim Falteisek, Senior Vice President, 3M Asia Corporate Affairs and Managing Director of 3M Korea, “We are excited to launch results from our 2022 State of Science Index survey, taking the pulse on how people think and feel about the field, its impact on the world around us, and how we can bridge these critical gaps.”

As society shifts to the post-pandemic world, trust in science (91%) and scientists (87%) remains extremely high among Asia-Pacific countries, with more than half agreeing that science is very important to them in their everyday life (57% vs global average of 52%*). However, most people in the Asia-Pacific region believe there is widespread misinformation in traditional news (i.e., in online, print or broadcast/ TV news outlets) (71%) and/or social media (85%), threatening scientific credibility. In fact, respondents here are still more likely to be skeptical of science than those globally (36% vs. 29% globally*). 

Still, APAC recognizes that science is indispensable in society, and a large majority (81%) believe there are negative consequences if people do not value science. Public health crises (60%); more division within society (55% vs. 57% globally); and increase in severity of climate change effects (54% vs. 53% globally) were identified as top consequences if people cannot trust news stories about science. 82% of APAC also want to hear more from scientists about their work, spotlighting a clear opportunity for science communication to lead the way forward.  

Worried about climate change, but less likely to take action 

According to the survey, an overwhelming majority of APAC respondents said they were concerned that they or a loved one may one day be displaced from where they live due to extreme weather related to climate change (84% vs. 79% globally). Despite these climate concerns, those in Asia-Pacific are slightly less likely to take action themselves. Compared to the global population, they are less likely to report having taken actions to become more sustainable over the last six months, even for the most common ones, which include: (1) reducing use of plastic (51% vs. 53% globally); (2) recycling materials (47% vs. 54% globally); and (3) reducing water use (41% vs. 48% globally).

When it comes to companies, the top actions respondents here wanted them to take to build a more sustainable future include: reducing the amount of plastic used in products (58%, on par with global); using recycled and renewable materials in products developed (53% vs. 54% globally); and reducing waste created by facilities (52%, on par with global). 

3M has long heeded this call through its Strategic Sustainability Framework, which guides 3M science to advance the circular economy, improve the company’s environmental footprint, and create a more positive world through science. For example, 3M is working towards reducing its dependence on virgin fossil-based plastic by 125 million pounds by 2025, and the company is approaching 50% renewable electricity at all global sites, well ahead of its 2025 goal.

Opportunities for science to make a social impact 

In Asia-Pacific, addressing healthcare disparities in access and the root causes of health are top priorities, the 3M State of Science Index found. When it comes to advancements in social justice and change, ensuring access to quality healthcare regardless of age, gender, race/ ethnicity, socioeconomic status, location, and other factors is a top priority for people in APAC, with 78% identifying it as a top priority for society in the next five years. This is closely followed by addressing the non-traditional root causes of health within underserved and underrepresented communities, which garnered 73% of the votes. 

People in the Asia-Pacific region also expect corporations to prioritize collaboration with the healthcare industry and other entities when it comes to improving the quality of care (51%); and addressing the root causes of health within underserved and underrepresented communities (47%). 

Recognizing barriers to STEM equity

Diversity and inclusion in STEM is another key area that needs work. 85% surveyed in APAC agreed that there are barriers to students pursuing a STEM education. Top barriers include: lack of access (NET) (78%), inability to afford a strong STEM education (48%), and students having too many personal responsibilities to focus on a STEM education (43%).

Majority also believe underrepresented minorities often do not receive equal access to STEM education (74%). Women, in particular, face many challenges throughout their STEM journey. Across the region, 83% agree that more needs to be done to encourage and keep women/girls engaged in STEM education. 65% also believe that women are leaving STEM job positions because they do not receive enough support, and 62% say women/girls are more discouraged from pursuing engineering than other science fields. 

People in APAC are thus calling on the science community and companies to increase STEM equity and representation in their workforce. 90% agree the science community should do more to attract a diverse workforce and 87% believe science companies would have greater positive impact on society if there was greater diversity and representation within their workforce.

Reggie Pulumbarit, 3M Philippines Country Leader.

“3M’s global education-focused goal to create five million unique STEM and skilled trade learning experiences for underrepresented individuals by the end of 2025 will make a difference for many future scientists and go a long way in advancing economic equity,” said Reggie Pulumbarit, 3M Philippines Country Leader. “At 3M Philippines, we believe strongly in investing in under-resourced communities and keeping science accessible to all. We’ve partnered with non-profit organization Mano Amiga Philippines, to continue our commitment to making STEM resources accessible to Filipino students across the country.” 

Future technologies bring hope and uncertainty

Looking forward, people in the region are excited about future technologies. 75% think artificial intelligence (AI) is an exciting technology that impacts their lives daily.  Roughly one-third of APAC believe self-driving cars will become a normal part of life within the next five years, and 79% are likely to accept a ride in an autonomous, or self-driving car where there is no human driver. 

Yet, 53% still worry advancements in AI within the next five years will cause them to lose their job. 73% worry about being able to keep up in a job market that is becoming increasingly dependent on digital skills. Employers are key to allaying these fears, as roughly nine-in-ten respondents believe that employers should provide financial support or reimbursement for upskilling. 

To encourage continuous learning, 3M expanded its bespoke virtual learning portal and even sought employee feedback on ways to improve these tools. 3M employees can now easily access thousands of resources ranging from e-modules, book abstracts and video training to help them upgrade their skills.  

“At 3M Philippines, we want to ensure effective collaboration among employees by enhancing their social and emotional skills to keep professional ties strong despite the distance. To thrive during an evolving business situation, it is crucial to build employees’ adaptability and resilience – this is so that they can take new experiences as a source of learning,” said Pulumbarit. “With the right investment, skill development initiatives can help improve the technical knowledge, adaptability, and resilience of the workforce. Developing such skills will also strengthen companies for future disruptions.

“We work hard every day at 3M to unlock the power of people, ideas, and science, and drive meaningful change for a more sustainable and equitable world for future generations,” concluded Falteisek. “These findings have highlighted key issues the public, communities and corporates need to work on, and show us that we are making moves towards the right direction.”  

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