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Politicians not using important research results

18.01.2007
Politicians are not making use of important scientific research results. This is one conclusion from an extensive three-part study carried out by the Swedish organisation Vetenskap & Allmänhet (VA) into Swedish politicians’ attitudes to science and researchers.

The study involved a survey of national and local politicians, an analysis of science-related material in political party magazines and those of their youth organisations, and a book “Kunskapsbiten”, in which 18 politicians and researchers give their views on the relationship between politics and science. A complete summary of these studies in English can be found at http://www.v-a.se/download/varapport2006_5_eng.pdf.

86% of politicians believe that medical research has a great influence on the development of society. This is followed by technology and natural science (72%), whilst for humanities and social sciences the figure is only 39%. The policy areas most influenced by research results, according to politicians, are health, the environment and energy.

Three out of four politicians seek out scientific research information in order to support political decisions. But paradoxically politicians seldom look for research information within the areas they believe to be most influential. Only 16% often make use of medical research results, with the percentage increasing to 21% for technology and natural sciences and to 33% for social sciences and the humanities.

This can possibly be attributed to the fact that politicians often have a social science background, and so find information in other subject areas harder both to find and to understand.

These figures are also reflected in the content of party-political magazines, where there are practically no articles concerning medicine, technology or natural science. Social sciences and the humanities on the other hand are covered much more frequently.

Almost all politicians have great trust in researchers at universities and three out of four extend the same level of trust to researchers at companies. Politicians believe, to a clearly greater extent than the public, that there is a good chance that research will help to increase economic growth and slow down climate change.

Three quarters of politicians think that researchers should communicate more with the public about their research. The majority of politicians have research contacts and report positive experiences of these contacts. The internet however remains politicians’ main source of information.

The results also point to the fact that politicians and researchers speak different languages, have different perspectives and meet far too rarely. It is clear that researchers and politicians need new ways of interacting and new meeting places, as well as easy-to-read information on research. Together these measures can help to drive the two worlds closer, and to make research easier for politicians to access and understand.

Karin Hermansson | alfa
Further information:
http://www.v-a.se/download/varapport2006_5_eng.pdf

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