Too many people think they need to be a rocket scientist in order to become a rocket scientist, said a new survey on global attitudes toward science commissioned by the 3M Company.
The survey found that nearly four in 10 people believe that only geniuses can succeed in science careers. That result is one among several that troubles leaders at Maplewood-based 3M, because they said such misconceptions can discourage people from trying or sharing new ideas.
Scientific progress requires “creativity and fresh attitudes and new ways to look at problems,” said Dr. Jayshree Seth, 3M’s newly appointed chief science advocate. “I don’t think anybody has a monopoly on good ideas,” she said.
Seth cited the example of a teenager in Africa who came up with ways to harvest fog and convert it into usable water in drought-stricken areas.
In unveiling results of its State of Science survey, 3M invited astronaut Scott Kelly to speak about the breadth of people needed to achieve breakthroughs.
Kelly said he was a bad, unmotivated student until he stopped at a college bookstore at age 18 to buy gum, and instead walked out with a copy of “The Right Stuff,” Tom Wolfe’s bestseller about the first American astronauts.
“That book was absolutely pivotal for me,” he said. “Eighteen years after I read that book, at 36, I was flying in space for the first time.”
Kelly’s four spaceflights included a yearlong mission on the International Space Station and three spacewalks.
“If I can do it,” he said, “its possible for other people.”
The first-ever survey by 3M, covering more than 14,000 people in 14 countries, sought to identify attitudes about science as well as misconceptions. In general, people have high hopes: 67 percent said they believe they will see a cure for cancer in their lifetime, while 51 percent anticipate flying cars and 26 percent even envision teleportation.
At the same time, a third of respondents are skeptical about science, even though they appreciate the technological advancements it has ultimately produced. “That disconnect does not serve us well,” Seth said. “The way I see it is that science is the unsung hero behind all of this technology.”
Despite the number of skeptics, as well as those who don’t believe science contributes to their lives, Seth said she was heartened by the fact that 92 percent of surveyed parents want their children to know more about science. And 82 percent of adults said they will encourage children to pursue scientific careers.
Seth said the results ultimately leave her hopeful about public interest in science. But does she also believe she will see a flying car in her lifetime?
“I wish I was younger,” she replied.