Wellcome Global Monitor is the first study of public attitudes to science and health on a global scale, conducting nationally representative surveys of people aged 15 years or older in over 140 countries. We spoke directly to over 140,000 people around the world.
The survey covers topics such as whether people trust science, scientists and information about health, the levels of understanding and interest in science and health, the benefits of science, the compatibility of religion and science, and attitudes to vaccines.
The report explores how attitudes vary by characteristics such as nationality, gender, income, and education. It is the first time international and regional differences in attitudes have been studied at this level of detail.
Almost everywhere, men are more likely to claim greater science knowledge than women. This gap exists even when men and women report equal levels of science attainment. This gender gap is largest in Northern Europe, standing at a 17-percentage-point difference, and the lowest is in the Middle East, with a 3-percentage-point difference.
Young people say they know more about science than older people do. Worldwide, more than half the people aged 15–29 (53%) say they know 'some' or 'a lot' about science, compared to 40% of those aged 30–49 and 34% of those aged 50 and older.
Almost two-thirds of people worldwide (62%) say they are interested in learning more about science, particularly people living in low-income countries, 72%.
The basic concepts of 'science' and 'scientists' are not universally understood across all countries, even in high-income nations. In Central Africa, for example, 32% said they understood none of the definitions presented to them or said they didn't know. In Northern America and most of Europe this figure drops as low as 2%.
Globally, 28% of people say they recently sought information about science, and 41% have recently sought information about medicine, disease or health.
Trust in science and health professionals
Globally, 18% of people have a 'high' level of trust in scientists, while 54% have a 'medium' level of trust, 14% have 'low' trust and 13% said 'don’t know'. This ranges from a third of people having 'high' trust in Australia and New Zealand, Northern Europe and Central Asia to around one in ten in Central and South America.
While most of what is related positively to a person’s level of trust in scientists cannot be explained, learning science at school or college, and confidence in key national institutions (such as the government, the military and the judiciary) are the strongest factors.
Other factors that significantly relate positively to trust in scientists include living in a rural location as opposed to having an urban residence, the extent to which people feel it is difficult to get by on their income, higher levels of income inequality in a country, and lack of access to mobile phones and the internet.
Globally, 73% of people say they would trust a doctor or a nurse more than other sources of health advice, including family, friends, religious leaders or famous people. This figure ranges from a low of 65% in East Asia and the Middle East, to a high of about 90% in parts of Europe, Northern America and Australia and New Zealand.
People in high-income countries are about as likely to have confidence in hospitals and health clinics in their country as lower-middle-income countries (78% and 82% respectively).
Those who find it difficult or very difficult to get by financially in upper-middle and high-income countries have the lowest confidence in hospitals and health clinics than any other group elsewhere in the world.
Personal household income may be more strongly related to people’s confidence in hospitals and health clinics than national income is. People who say they find it difficult to get by on their present income are less likely to say they have confidence in their country’s hospitals and health clinics.
Worldwide, more than eight in ten people (84%) say they trust medical and health advice from medical workers (such as doctors and nurses) but that decreases to 76% for trust in that same advice from the government.
Science and society
Worldwide, about seven in ten people feel that science benefits them – but only around four in ten think it benefits most people in their country.
About a third of people in North and Southern Africa, and Central and South America feel excluded from the benefits of science. South America has the highest proportion of people who believe that science neither benefits them personally nor society as a whole, about a quarter of people.
In high-income countries, people who say they are 'finding it difficult' to get by on their present income are about three times as likely as people who say they are 'living comfortably' to be sceptical about whether science benefits society as a whole, or them personally.
Overall, out of more than 140 countries in this study, people in France are most likely to see science and technology as a threat to the local employment prospects. Regionally, the people of Western Europe and Eastern Europe are the most pessimistic regions about the impact of science and technology on jobs in their countries.
Among people with a religious affiliation, 55% would agree with their religious teachings in a disagreement between science and their religion; 29% would agree with science, and 13% say it depends on the issue.
Among people who say they have a religion, the highest percentages of people who say that science has disagreed with their religious teachings are in the US and Southern Europe (59%).
Globally, 64% percent of people who have a religious affiliation and who say religion is an important part of their daily life, say that when there is a disagreement, they believe religion over science.
Attitudes to vaccines
Globally, eight in ten people (79%) 'somewhat' or 'strongly agree' that vaccines are safe, while 7% 'somewhat' or 'strongly disagree'. Another 11% 'neither agree nor disagree', and 3% said they 'don’t know'.
In high-income regions, only 72% of people in Northern America and 73% in Northern Europe agree that vaccines are safe. In Western Europe, this figure is lower, at 59%, and in Eastern Europe is only 50%. In low-income regions, the proportion tends to be much higher, with highs of 95% of people in South Asia and 92% in Eastern Africa.
In France, one in three people disagree that vaccines are safe, the highest percentage for any country worldwide.
92% of parents worldwide said that their children had received a vaccine to prevent them from getting childhood diseases, while 6% said they did not, and 2% said they did not know. The highest percentage of parents who said their children did not receive a vaccine were Southern Africa, 9% and East Asia and Southeast Asia, 8%.
In most regions, people who have high trust in doctors and nurses are very likely to consider that vaccines are safe. However, this is less true in Western and Eastern Europe.
There is a positive relationship between overall trust in scientists and attitudes towards vaccines, though the relationship is strongest in high-income countries.