Wellcome Trust Monitor

Among the datasets released this month by the Economic and Social Data Service (ESDS) is that for the Wellcome Trust Monitor 1, 2009 (SN 6889). A suite of technical documentation can be found at:


The Monitor (expected to be repeated every three years) was a study of the knowledge of and attitudes towards medical and genetic research, and to science and science education more generally, among samples of 1,179 adults aged 18 and over and 374 young people aged 14-18 in the UK, interviewed face-to-face by the National Centre for Social Research in January-March 2009.

Although the Wellcome Trust published a report on the Monitor last year, written by Sarah Butt, Elizabeth Clery, Varunie Abeywardana and Miranda Phillips, it did not especially focus on analysing the results by the two background religious variables (religious affiliation and attendance at religious services) which were included in the questionnaire. The availability of the dataset now makes such secondary analysis possible.

The survey also included two ‘religion-related’ modules. One, asked only of adults, examined attitudes to ‘pseudoscience’, with particular reference to alternative medicine and horoscopes. The other, posed to adults and young people, concerned opinions about the commencement of human life (conception versus birth) and the origins of life on earth (creationism versus evolution), the assumption being that these would have informed views about medical research.

Topline and limited disaggregated data for both these modules were summarized on pages 31-36 of the 2010 published report, not hitherto picked up by BRIN, which is at:


45% of adults (51% of women and 39% of men) were found to have used some form of alternative medicine, the most common being herbal medicine, homeopathy and acupuncture. One-fifth claimed to read their horoscope often or fairly often, notwithstanding 89% considered them unscientific.

53% of adults took a fully evolutionist perspective on the origins of life, attributing it to natural selection, with 18% being creationists (including 71% of weekly attenders at religious services), and 27% saying that life evolved over time but in a process guided by God. The pattern of replies among young people was not substantially different.

In a separate commentary on key points arising from the investigation, the Wellcome Trust noted: ‘Although there is very strong support for medical research there is evidence of a plurality of views among the public. A significant minority believe that homeopathy is as good as, or better than, conventional medicines.’

‘Nearly a fifth of the public reject evolution, believing that living things were created by God and have always existed in their current form. This clearly demonstrates that this is no time for complacency and the need for both good-quality public engagement and science education.’

British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

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