The cross : According to an Ifop survey for the Reboot Foundation and the Jean-Jaurès Foundationonly 33% of young people aged 18 to 24 believe that “Science brings more good to man than harm”. They are even 17% to consider that it is harmful for humanity. How do you explain this mistrust?
Iannis Roder : I believe that there are three factors which can explain it. The first is the weakening of the credibility of the expertise. Today, social networks dilute the words of experts in a flood of information and everyone claims to be able to talk about any subject. One of the consequences for young people is that the teaching word is only one word among others.
The second is the return of religion, or rather the return of belief, in every sense of the term, particularly among young French people of Muslim obedience, according to the survey, which means that any affirmation relating to belief deserves to be taken into account.
The third, of which I already spoke in 2008 in my book The blackboard (Denoël), it is the defeat of the school. At the time, I was one of the first to warn about a situation that risked blowing up in our faces with young people who are sorely lacking in vocabulary, conceptualization and abstraction skills. Gaps that obviously make it more difficult to read and understand certain scientific phenomena. But when you don’t understand, doubt becomes more complicated than belief, which reassures and provides a framework.
Nearly one in six young people (16%) even believe that the Earth is flat. It is still very surprising…
IR: Yes, it’s absurd and, at the same time, I think it’s quite symptomatic of what is lacking. When it was discovered that the Earth was round, there were no planes or satellites. We have understood this thanks to a scientific demonstration. However, today, we no longer go through this stage enough to explain how we know such and such a thing and the pupils are no longer able to understand this process. Explaining through observation only weakens knowledge because students are both very credulous and very suspicious of images. They know that any image can tell the truth and are capable of distrusting and adhering.
The young people surveyed by Ifop are also very open to conspiracy theses, but like many adults since the Covid-19 pandemic…
IR: Yes, in times of crisis, we look for reassuring explanations for phenomena that we don’t understand because they shock or scare us. And what reassures us, among other things, is the idea that we are being lied to. When reality is unbearable, we seek alternative explanations for what we are experiencing. Hence the development of these conspiracy theories and the search for scapegoats.
Young people can be influenced by those around them or by what they see on social networks. The survey also shows that TikTok users are particularly open to these theses. But they also adhere to it because they are by nature more gullible than adults. At this age, they don’t have the same cognitive and intellectual abilities to understand what’s going on. And, with the distressing speeches, they can quickly fall into irrationality. This is all the more true since today, as I said, they find it difficult to think for themselves.
Is it this credulity that explains the attraction of young people, at all times, as the Ifop survey highlights, for irrational beliefs and the paranormal?
IR: It is quite possible that there is a particular prism of youth for these beliefs because of a certain immaturity, but I believe that it would be wrong to consider that this is something normal. The Ifop survey shows that 59% of young people believe in an occult superstition. This is quite worrying, especially since other studies show that there is also a significant distrust of young people with regard to democracy and an increasing attraction for more authoritarian regimes. All this gives us bundles of clues on a general dropout of part of the youth vis-à-vis the base of republican values and principles. The question of science being only one dimension of the problem facing us today.