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  • Scientist-salesmen fail to convince Chinese public

[BEIJING] Widespread mistrust of scientists who make claims in advertisements has emerged from China's annual report on science communication.

Nearly 90 per cent of Beijing-based survey respondents expressed doubts about the credibility of scientists appearing in advertisements for consumer products, and nearly one-third stated that they "definitely mistrust" them.

The survey, of just over 1,000 residents of the cities of Beijing, Shijiazhuang and Chengdu, found that the social status of Chinese scientists is generally high, however. Nearly 60 per cent of Beijing respondents described the image of scientists as "fairly good" or "very good", with less than five per cent rating it as "bad". Similar results were obtained in the other two cities.

The poorest image of scientists was held by well-educated respondents and those in the 26-to-35-year age group. The report's co-author, Jin Yi, an associate fellow of the Institute for Science Communication of China, attributed this to the two groups' greater inclination to challenge authority and established ideas.

Asked to assess the image of 14 government organisations, survey respondents ranked the Chinese Academy of Sciences second in reputation, behind the National Space Administration. The academy was ranked 10th most popular — ahead ofthe State Intellectual Property Office, Ministry of Science and Technology, Chinese Academy of Engineering and the China Association for Science and Technology.

The survey also found that scientists are perceived to have a relatively weak impact on social life. "Scientists, especially those without administrative positions, rarely play a major role in the final decision of government matters. Scientists are regarded as professional and abstract icons, far away from the daily interactions of society, making it hard for them to win public trust," the report's authors conclude.

In a separate analysis of tianya.cn, a popular Internet forum in China, the Institute for Science Communication found many of the site's users were questioning the professionalism and moral standards of Chinese academics, citing examples of misconduct that have been exposed in recent years.

Overall, Jin told SciDev.Net: "The stereotyped image of present-day scientists has remained at the level of the 1980s. It can even be inferred that science has not been accepted by pop culture and scientists have not entered the public's awareness".

She suggests that Chinese scientists improve their public image by upholding ethical standards and by engaging more with the media, the public, and the government through seminars, exhibitions and other activities. She suggests scientists should post positive messages about science on the Internet, which has an increasing influence in China. Jin also recommends the production of films and science-related television programmes, preferably with scientists taking leading roles.

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