Science is On The Rise in Asia-Pacific, But How Long Can it Last?

Kevin McGuigan, 3M

By Kevin McGuigan

During the gloom of the global COVID-19 pandemic, science has been the beacon of hope across the world. Thanks to science, we were able to find out how the virus worked and develop a vaccine in record time, built on experience from years of prior scientific research and exploration.

Unsurprisingly, this increased hope was the overall finding uncovered in this year’s State of Science Index (SOSI), an annual, third-party study commissioned by global science company 3M to track attitudes towards science. Fielded from February to March this year, the 2021 edition involved 17,000 people, up from 14,000 in its previous editions – making it the largest data pool to date.

According to the study, science has brought much hope to the Asia-Pacific region. As attention turns to vaccines, people here are counting on science to help restore and rejuvenate their lives and enable the road to recovery. 91% of respondents in the APAC region said science gives them hope for the future, and 90% are hopeful that 2021 will be a better year than 2020 because of science.

Where there’s hope, there’s trust

Alongside hope, trust in science also emerged as a prevailing trend. A very strong majority (91%) of Asia-Pacific respondents trust science today and 86% trust scientists. These are some of the highest levels of trust in science we’ve seen since conducting the first SOSI in 2018.

Individuals in the region are also feeling the heat. 60% believe that science is very important to them in their everyday lives today, slightly above the 56% global average.

We’re also behaving differently. 73% said they would defend science when someone is questioning it. This is critical when navigating conflicting and even false narratives surrounding the pandemic and vaccines.

Spillover effects on sustainability

Contrary to popular belief, the pandemic has not overshadowed climate change. Instead, COVID-19 has made APAC more aware of it – more so compared to other countries around the world. 82% said that the COVID-19 pandemic has made them more environmentally conscious, five points more than the global average.

There is a sense of urgency around climate change as 90% agree better solutions to mitigate climate change need to be put in place immediately. Additionally, 89% in the region also believe people should follow the science to help make the world more sustainable.

Luckily, leaders are answering this call. A report by the UN ESCAP, released in December 2020, found that countries in Asia-Pacific have implemented a total of 111 policies and measures targeting green recovery.

But will it last?

Science is a big part of how society will solve the toughest challenges we face. It’s clear from this year’s results that many agree. We’ve made leaps in our appreciation for science and we’re seeing more people step up for science.

But more needs to be done. 89% believe we need to increase diversity and inclusion in STEM, and 91% believe corporations should play a key role in improving diversity within STEM fields.

Also, as new variants are being discovered and new waves of infections emerging, it’s hard to say when the pandemic will truly be over. With only one year behind us, it’s still too early to predict whether our renewed interest in science will last.

29% in Asia-Pacific are unsure or do not believe this appreciation for science will continue. While lower than the 41% worldwide, this trend is worrying. Trust and appreciation of science is key to combatting misinformation surrounding COVID-19 and vaccines, and this has serious implications on how fast we can find our way out. Therefore, we need to continue this drive for science.

Corporates play a key role in championing science

Here’s where corporates and business leaders come in – to advocate for science. One such way is through providing quality STEM education opportunities for the community.

Across Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, 3M is championing science and innovation through The 3M Inspire Challenge, a regional case competition that encourages university students from all courses of study to create solutions in the themes of Technology, Sustainability and Innovation.

Corporates know first hand the power of science. Already, they use science to develop better products and solutions, build better facilities and optimize business models.

With businesses on board, leveraging their resources to champion science, I’m confident we’ll continue this exciting momentum to create a safer, greener, stronger, and more equitable future in the region and beyond.

Kevin McGuigan is Vice President and Managing Director, 3M South East Asia Region and Country Leader, Singapore