Using latent class models to explore cross-national typologies of public engagement with science and technology in Europe
Public engagement with science and technology is a central theme in the field of Public Understanding of Science (PUS), particularly in Europe. Alongside public consultation exercises and similar activities aimed at generating engagement, there is a need for good survey indicators of the general climate for engagement with science and technology among the public. With internationally focused PUS studies increasing in prominence, such survey indicators should ideally characterise engagement in approximately the same way across a range of countries, to facilitate sensible cross-national analyses involving this construct. This article presents cross-national analyses of two sets of questions posed in the Eurobarometer survey on public perceptions of biotechnology, conducted in 2002 in fifteen European countries. The items analysed capture a range of elements of the concept of engagement, both with science and technology, in general, and with biotechnology, in particular. Latent class models are used to explore typologies of types of engagement: substantively, to understand their content, and methodologically, to identify items which do not work well in these classifications. The analyses are also used to assess the statistical cross-national comparability of such typologies, and consequently to describe variations in levels of engagement across countries.