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Brazilians' optimism about science is rising, according to the third national survey of public perception of science and technology (S&T).

In a country that has won the soccer World Cup five times, people are now as interested in science as they are in sport, according to the survey of more than 2,000 people, which was presented last month (27 December) in Brasilia.

The number of respondents who agree that Brazilian science is lagging behind other countries has been decreasing steadily since the first survey in 1987, dropping from more than half to just over a quarter in 2010, lldeu de Castro Moreira, director of the science ministry's department of S&T popularisation and dissemination and coordinator of the survey, told SciDev.Net.

And the percentage of Brazilians who agree that science is more beneficial than damaging, or only beneficial, grew from 74 in 2006 to 81 in 2010.

Celso Pinto de Melo, president of the Brazilian Physical Society, told SciDev.Net that, as education levels increase, people become more aware of the importance of S&T in their lives, and that "those who only see benefits in science, [may] share an idealised and uncritical concept of contemporary science".

"S&T popularisation activities have increased significantly due to a national public policy. There has been greater engagement of universities and institutions, and more public funds for museums and for organising science events," Moreira said.

But less than 18 per cent of respondents could name a Brazilian research institution and only around 12 per cent could name a Brazilian scientist.

"It's a shame that Brazilians know very little about [the country's] leading research institutions and scientists," said Moreira, citing a lack of history of science teaching in Brazil's schools and universities.

The Brazilian results contrast strongly with a similar survey in Mexico by the National Council on Science and Technology and the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, which found that more than half of the respondents agreed that scientists "have power which makes them dangerous", according to the El Universal newspaper.

A similar proportion agreed that technological development leads to an "artificial and inhumane" way of life. Meanwhile a large percentage of people embrace magical beliefs, with over 80 per cent agreeing they "believe too much in faith and too little in science".

Francisco Castellón Fonseca, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Science of the Republic, told El Universal that the opinions reveal a flawed education system which has no strategy to reverse the public's acceptance of magic over scientific logic. 

And Rosaura Ruiz, science faculty director at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told the paper this was "a serious threat to national development".

Link to the Brazilian survey (in Portuguese)

Link to full article in El Universal

Additional reporting by Mico Tatalovic.

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