Despite low state funding, public appreciates science

Poll reveals substantial portion of the public feels more resources should be allocated to science and research.

Lab 311 (photo credit: Bloomberg)
Lab 311
(photo credit: Bloomberg)
Although funding of basic science has for decades been given low priority by Israeli governments, members of the general public feel that science and scientific research are a prime source of national pride, according to a survey carried out for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to mark National Science Day, that was marked on Sunday, the 131st anniversary of Albert Einstein’s birth.
The poll, based on a representative sample of 500 Israeli adults and conducted by the MarketWatch company, revealed that a substantial portion of the public feels that more resources should be allocated to science and research.
University researchers were regarded by survey participants as being in one of the most prestigious professional positions, just below that of a physician and ahead of business people, accountants, lawyers and military personnel. The least highly regarded professions in the eyes of those surveyed were bankers, members of Knesset and communicationsand religious figures.
Among those surveyed who had children, 16 percent chose university researcher as their most desired aspiration for them, second only to physician (19%). Nearly 60% of all of those surveyed said that science and research were for them a source of national pride. Only the fields of hi-tech at 65% and medicine 62% scored higher in this regard.
Other results on the scale of national pride included security forces (57%), sports (22%), the arts (17%), education (11%) and government (2%).
About half of those questioned thought that Israel does not invest enough resources in research and science or does not invest in them at all. Only 19% thought that the government invested enough or even a good deal of resources in these fields.
Most of the other respondents felt the support was only middling.
When asked about the issue of the “brain drain” of promising scientists and researchers from Israel, 41% thought that this phenomenon was due to lower salaries in academia here than abroad, 17% thought the main reason was a lack of available positions, 14% thoughtthat scientists held a higher position in society abroad than in Israel and 11% thought the scientific infrastructure in Israel was at a lower level than elsewhere.
Interestingly, only 8% thought that the reason was a higher standard of living abroad.
When asked if they could identify Israeli Nobel Prize winners, 58% successfully identified at least one prize winner, while 65% could identify the name of at least one participant in the popular TV show Big Brother. Only a small percentage could identify more than one Israeli Nobel laureate.
Fifty-eight percent said they believe that a university researcher works hard – at least 10 hours a day.
HU president Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson said that the findings of thesurvey show that the greater public appreciates the contribution ofscience to society.
“The findings raise hopes that the framersof public policy will be attentive and establish a national policyscale in line with the expressions in this survey,” he said.
“Thisunderstanding of the public about science is a refreshing message onNational Science Day, both for the Hebrew University and for highereducation in Israel in general.”
Ben-Sasson said that despitethe public’s belief that the brain drain is motivated by economics, thereal reason is the superior scientific infrastructure that existsabroad as compared to Israel.