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Knowledge about ozone has been decreasing for 15 years

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Despite the widespread availability of information on the Internet, the general public's knowledge about ozone has fallen off in recent years, as shown by an analysis of the responses to an ozone quiz that the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) has been running for 18 years.

 

The hot, ozone-heavy summer of 2018 got WSL researchers wondering whether knowledge about ozone and its effects had increased in recent years. They decided to analyse the last 18 years of responses to the WSL's ozone quiz to find out.

However, contrary to their expectations, the number of correct responses to the ozone quiz had fallen by 12% since 2000, even though 82% of participants felt that the quiz's level of difficulty was appropriate. "The decrease really surprised me: as living beings who observe the environment, the participants are themselves affected by the air quality, so you would think they would be very interested in it," says biologist Madeleine Günthardt-Goerg, who made a major contribution to the development of the quiz.

Interestingly, one in five participants had heard about the quiz from someone they knew, and that trend has been increasing over the years. The findings were based on analysis of one of the 42 questions making up the quiz. The number of participants rose steadily in the first few years, peaked in the hot, ozone-heavy year 2003, then began to dwindle. "The decline could be due to the fact that reporting on the current ozone level has become increasingly routine, while news about politics, economic activity and society has gained in importance," muses Günthardt-Goerg. Changing habits in Internet use may also have something to do with it: unfortunately, there is no app for the quiz, so anyone wanting to access it from the smartphones and tablets that are so prevalent today has to do so through the Internet.

High ozone levels in the summer of 2018

Knowledge about ozone may be declining, but the damage ozone causes is still a highly topical issue. Ozone levels still regularly exceed threshold values in Switzerland (and did so on most days in July 2018). Moreover, levels of ozone are particularly worrying in emerging countries with a rising standard of living, especially in the cities. As a result of this, doctors believe that the incidence of respiratory diseases will increase sharply by 2050 even if ozone levels remain constant, and that the number of premature deaths caused by respiratory problems will rise by 1.5 to 2.5 million worldwide. The visible damage sustained by plants is another clear indicator of the continued importance of enhancing knowledge about ozone and its effects.

 

The Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) developed a quiz about ground-level ozone in 2000 to enable the general public to test and, if necessary, improve their knowledge about ozone and its effects (https://www.wsl.ch/forest/products/ozone). Quiz participants need to find the right answers to a selection of 42 frequently asked questions in three sub-areas (chemistry, plants and humans), and their responses were collected anonymously over the Internet. The researchers received a total of 21,656 data sets.

 

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