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[BEIJING] Less than two per cent of Chinese people have a basic understanding of scientific concepts, according to new research. But levels of scientific literacy are improving — the 1.98 per cent level of scientific literacy recorded in the recent survey is 40 per cent higher than in 2001 and almost 10 times higher than in 1996.

The survey of almost 8,500 Chinese adults was carried out between February and June 2003. Its results were released last week in Beijing by the China Association for Science and Technology (CAST).

Lei Yihong, director of the Beijing-based China Institute of Science Popularisation, which conducted the research for CAST, says that despite the growth in science literacy, "more education and communication is needed to reach the target of universal science literacy in China by the year 2049" (see China promises universal science literacy).

The survey included asking questions such as 'what is a molecule?' and 'how long does it take for the Earth to go around the Sun?'.

According to Lei, a similar survey carried out in the United States in 2000 showed that 17 per cent of the population there understood basic scientific concepts, and a survey carried out in European countries found 4.4 per cent scientific literacy.

Despite the expansion of higher education and science education, Lei says, rural areas still show particularly low levels of scientific literacy. The survey found that 4.1 per cent of urban residents are scientifically literate compared to 0.7 per cent in rural areas.

The research also shows that a basic understanding of science is more frequently found in men (2.3 per cent) than in women (0.6 per cent), and that younger adults tended to have higher levels of scientific literacy than older ones.

More than 90 per cent of those surveyed received some scientific information via television and 69.5 per cent from newspapers. About six per cent said they got information on science from the Internet.

The survey also indicates that less than ten per cent of people had visited any science museums in the previous year. According to Lei, "the main reason is not because of the price of entry to science museums, but because China basically lacks enough fully equipped science museums".

Nearly 60 per cent of those who hadn't visited museums said there weren't any science museums near where they lived, 17.8 per cent said they had no time, and 8.9 per cent said they weren't interested in visiting science museums.

In a bid to improve people's science awareness, the Chinese government has launched several community-based science exhibitions in the past five years, and it also passed a Science Popularisation Law in 2002. But the survey shows that last year only 11.1 per cent of the public attended any kind of science communication event.

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