Why misinformation threatens the future of science

A message from
 
3M

Dr. Jayshree Seth, corporate scientist and chief science advocate at 3M, breaks down the results from the 3M State of Science Index survey, co-sponsored by Ipsos, which explores global attitudes towards science.

1. First things first: What is the 1 thing you want people to know about the state of trust in science around the world?

Dr. Jayshree Seth: Trust in science remains exceptionally high in the U.S. and throughout the world.

  • 89% of Americans trust science.
  • 86% trust scientists.
  • 58% say science is very important to their everyday lives.

Millennials and Gen Z have especially high appreciation for science and expect it to solve many of the world’s challenges – from sustainability to health and STEM equity challenges.

63% of Gen Z and Millennials expect to appreciate science more over the next five years, compared to 43% of Gen X and Baby Boomers.

2. The challenge: Can you explain how misinformation presents a threat to scientific credibility? 

Dr. Jayshree Seth: Americans recognize there is widespread misinformation on social media (92%) and traditional media (78%), regardless of the subject matter. 

While 72% of Americans trust science-based facts published in traditional news, only 37% of Americans trust science-based facts on social media. 

Although trust in science is very high, still 34% of Americans say they’re skeptical of science and 47% believe science divides people with opposing views.

3. Why now: What could happen if a lack of trust in science increases?

Dr. Jayshree Seth: Addressing widespread misinformation is important because 81% of Americans say that if we cannot trust news stories about science, there will be negative consequences to society, such as:

  • More public health crises (64%).
  • More division within society (60%).
  • An increase in the severity of climate change effects (51%).

4. The impact: What are some of the major issues that science can solve?

Dr. Jayshree Seth: Science plays an increasingly relevant role in our lives, and Americans are connecting the dots to social impact — focusing on solutions for sustainability, health and STEM equity challenges.

The top five issues Americans want science to solve beyond the pandemic are:

  • Clean water supply (61%).
  • Air quality (53%).
  • Equal access to quality healthcare (50%).
  • Climate change (48%).
  • Hunger (43%).

5. Next steps: How can science help combat climate change?

Dr. Jayshree Seth: 84% of Americans agree science can help minimize the effects of climate change and 86% say we should follow the science to help make the world more sustainable.

Advancing sustainability and addressing climate change anchors purpose-driven innovation in 3M’s products, manufacturing processes and new technologies.

3M has a history of applying science and innovation to positively impact the planet. We will continue collaborating with colleagues, companies, institutions, governments and communities to develop new solutions and help solve shared global challenges.

6. The deets: What are some of the top health care areas science can help address?

Dr. Jayshree Seth: The top healthcare advancements Americans say science should prioritize, beyond the current pandemic, are:

  • Cures for chronic diseases (68%).
  • Cancer treatments (57%).
  • Mental and emotional health issues (56%).
  • Vaccines for future pandemics (50%).
  • Addressing the root causes of health issues (45%).

3M Health Care combines its deep health care expertise with an unparalleled breadth of technology platforms and solutions to transform outcomes for patients and professionals.

This includes utilizing data analytical capabilities such as 3M™ Clinical Risk Groupings and social drivers of health data analytics to assess health care delivery system performance.

3M Health Care is also developing partnerships with community-based organizations (CBOs) to utilize social drivers of health data analytics to identify neighborhoods that are most in need of community outreach.

This data helps CBOs maximize the efficiency of their operations and makes their efforts more effective.

7. Why it’s important: How does access to quality health care influence social justice?

Dr. Jayshree Seth: Americans say improving access to quality health care is the number one priority in the U.S. (78%) and most Americans believe access to quality healthcare is the key to advancing social justice and change (77%).

Beyond access within underserved and underrepresented communities, over the next five years, Americans believe society should prioritize addressing:

  • The non-traditional root causes of health disparity (68%).
  • Enhancing their community's infrastructure (67%).
  • Increasing representation of minorities in STEM fields (65%).

3M Health Care is committed to addressing health care access and disparities for marginalized communities based on social drivers and determinants of health.

The goal: Advance health equity by leveraging employee skills and 3M capabilities, like infrastructure and subject matter experts.

An example: 3M recently partnered with Get to Yes, a Minnesota coalition of 12 dental organizations working to expand critical dental care access for historically marginalized populations. The cross-sector partnership resulted in securing $120M in funding for critical dental care access.

On a global level, partnerships are leveraged through 3M Impact Health Care, a volunteer program which pairs 3M employees with community-based organizations that are working to advance health equity.

8. More info: What are some of the major challenges in pursuing a career in STEM — especially for women and underrepresented minorities?

Dr. Jayshree Seth: While 87% of Americans say it’s important to increase diversity and inclusion in STEM fields, 69% believe underrepresented minorities often do not have equal access to a STEM education.

Top barriers to pursuing a strong STEM education in America are:

  • Access (72%).
  • Affordability (47%).
  • Bias and prejudice (37%).

84% of Americans believe more needs to be done to encourage and keep women and girls engaged in STEM education.

The reason:

  • 82% of Americans say women are a source of untapped potential in the STEM workforce.
  • 59% say women are leaving STEM jobs because they don’t receive enough support.

The implication of STEM education barriers is significant, as education lays the foundation for future career opportunities.

9. Take note: Why are these significant gaps in STEM not improving? How can the scientific community help close these gaps?

Dr. Jayshree Seth: Many Americans aren’t seeing representation gaps that clearly exist in the STEM workforce. Only 57% of Americans believe a gender gap exists in the STEM workforce, only 56% believe a racial gap exists and only 40% believe a LGBTQ+ gap exists.

87% of Americans believe the scientific community should do more to attract a diverse workforce. 79% say science companies would have greater positive impact on society if there was greater diversity and representation within their workforce.

In 2021, 3M announced a global education-focused goal to advance economic equity by creating five million unique STEM and skilled trade learning experiences for underrepresented individuals by the end of 2025.

To move toward this goal, 3M is joining forces with the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) to elevate the profile of women and minorities in STEM professions.

Leveraging the Not the Science Type documentary, NMSI's team created middle and high school discussion guides focused on career pathways, intersectionality and forging ahead despite the societal stereotypes of scientists.

10. Looking ahead: What’s in store for the future of science?

Dr. Jayshree Seth: 89% of Americans believe that in the future, we will be more dependent on scientific knowledge than ever before.

At 3M, we innovate in ways big and small — and building what’s next is always top of mind. By continuously transforming our products, technologies and processes, we are always working to drive next-generation ideas forward.