Public Release:  Europeans and biomedical research

An Ipsos survey for Inserm

INSERM (Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale)

This news release is available in French.

The French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) is currently the leading biomedical research organisation in Europe, and plays a key role in developing European research. To mark its 50th anniversary, Inserm wanted to assess the perceptions of Europeans regarding biomedical research.

To create this European panorama, Ipsos carried out an Internet survey of over 4,000 Europeans (with 1,001 French, 1,004 German, 1,001 Italians and 1,005 British respondents) from 10 to 23 January 2014. Representative samples were obtained from each country involved using quota sampling.

According to results, health is still the area of research news that interests the greatest number of Europeans. This survey confirms the genuine confidence of Europeans regarding biomedical research and its players, at a time of moroseness and cynicism. Although they are aware that they do not understand all of its ramifications, they see it as a source of hope for themselves and their children, as well as a source of pride for their country.

The most memorable medical innovations for Europeans in the last 50 years have been organ transplants, medical imaging, and gene therapies.

Health, a theme of major interest for Europeans

  • Europeans show a particular interest in news items about health research, Inserm's special area of interest. Indeed, nearly one out of two Europeans (45%) mentions health as the area of research news that most interests him/her, far ahead of information technology and the new technologies (21%), environment (14%), human sciences (9%), energy (6%) or space (5%).

  • Health-related research news stimulates particular interest among the French (53%) and the Germans (48%).

  • Health research also interests more women (58%, compared with 32% of men) and people aged 35 years or older (51%, compared with 33% of those under 35).

Biomedical research is above all a synonym for hope

  • For Europeans, research mainly evokes the word "hope" (34% put it in first place, 67% among the first three). The French are the most likely to consider that biomedical research represents hope for them more than anything else.

  • 82% of Europeans believe that biomedical research will enable their children to live better than they do today (22% say "much better").

A high degree of confidence in researchers

  • Physicians and researchers in biomedical sciences remain trusted intermediaries in the eyes of Europeans: where a public health problem occurs, 45% of those surveyed named physicians among the three players that could be most trusted to tell them the truth, and 36% named researchers. 70% of Europeans also trust researchers to challenge opinion if they believe that their scientific research has important consequences for issues affecting society; 66% of Europeans trust researchers to refuse to let innovations arising from their work have negative consequences for public health, and 62% trust them to remain independent and to reject pressure regarding the results of their work.

A limited level of information and knowledge, but a questioning attitude nonetheless

  • Europeans who were surveyed predominantly admitted that they were not well informed about biomedical research, whether in terms of advances in this area (59% believed they were poorly informed), its consequences for their everyday lives (59%), or popular debates stimulated by some research projects (61%).

  • Their scientific literacy is also limited. On average, when Europeans were tested on approximately 20 scientific terms, they "really" understood only 4.5 terms. Only one of these was "really" understood by the majority--the term "animal experiments." Finally, the terms "nanoscience," "genome sequencing," viral vector," endocrine disrupters" or "epigenetics" were not understood by the majority of Europeans.

  • The result of this lack of scientific vocabulary is that Europeans are unable to understand the questions that may be raised by some areas of biomedical research. For these, they put all their faith in the experts and in researchers to "control" things. The results of the survey show that a subject may become part of public debate and generate intense discussion, even though most Europeans know very little about it.

The United States model, and development of European research funding

  • The USA seems to provide an ideal for Europeans regarding biomedical research: 84% of them name the United States as among the three most advanced countries in this area. Certainly, this figure primarily reflects the attractiveness of the USA to many Europeans. It also highlights the attraction of American laboratories for European students and researchers, explained by the large budgets and influence and its proven supremacy in terms of numbers of publications and returns. Germany, Great Britain and France come next (mentioned by 41%, 39% and 29% of respondents, respectively).

  • In order for Europe and their countries to keep their positions in this ranking, Europeans seem to believe that developments in the modes of research funding are essential: 88% judge it necessary for the private sector to become more involved in funding scientific research. 94% of Europeans surveyed nonetheless strongly advocate that a substantial proportion of biomedical research be funded by the State.

  • Finally, even though American biomedical research remains the model for many Europeans, 82% of Europeans believe that biomedical research is an area in which their own country can be proud of its results. This is especially the case in France, since 90% of respondents think so.

Organ transplants, medical imaging and gene therapy considered the most important medical innovations in the last 50 years

  • For Europeans, the most important innovation of the last 50 years is the organ transplant (70% name it among the 5 most important), just ahead of medical imaging (65%) and gene therapy (51%).

  • Next among the innovations most often mentioned are: the recent development and implantation of the artificial heart, celebrated as an achievement "made in France" (47%), the potential offered by the decoding of the human genome (35%), triple therapy (34%) and reprogramming of stem cells (32%).

  • The ranking of the most often-mentioned innovations varies with the gender and age of respondents. Nonetheless, women (as well as those under 35 years) were found to be more likely to mention innovations related to reproduction. More women than men are likely to judge oral contraception as a major discovery (33% compared with 21% of men), together with in vitro fertilisation (21% compared with 15%) and epidural anaesthesia (15% compared with 11%). However, Viagra is more often mentioned by men than by women (7% compared with 5%), but nonetheless seems to be the least noteworthy innovation on the list they were offered.

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