I was just made aware of a survey in England. Nearly 1500 scientists were surveyed about making connections with the public, such as giving popular talks, going into classrooms to talk about their work and encourage students to pursue science, and so on. The results had nearly two-thirds (64%) asy they were too busy to do any sort of public outreach, and instead needed the time to raise funds for their departments, i.e. grant writing. A majority of the respondents thought it was not important to go into schools, participate in public debates, or do media interviews. This sort of thing is viewed as 'fluffy' and not a good career move (my guess is this was the view of mostly non-tenured faculty). The Royal Society put out a statement which said scientists need to be encouraged somehow to get their work out in the public arena.
In this day and age, where science and technology drive the global economy and scientists complain about funding cuts and the lack of public knowledge or understanding of basic science, these results surprised me. Perhaps we are starting to wake up here in the U.S., where many NSF grants, for instance, require some small section of public outreach. This is actually a good time for schools to approach universities and attempt to collaborate, since many in the universities may actually consider forming a program or project with local schools in order to have it to put in grants. I've personally written four letters of support for Northwestern professors in the past year. But it sounds as if overseas this is not yet the case. My only hope is that federal funding agencies in the U.S. do not take such requirements out of grant RFPs.
I think it is true that the general public is largely scientifically illiterate, and scientists have done a poor job of getting their message out in a good, clear manner so the public cares more about what science is and how vital it is to our way of life. If scientists are unwilling to get the message out, help schools, and get involved in debate, then perhaps we should not be so miffed when a significant portion of the masses comes out and wants intelligent design in science classes and don't believe the science of global warming. I would have to think that it is in the best interest of the scientific community that the message gets out to the public, and that institutions should try to encourage it in some way. In addition, with looming shortages of scientists in the near future, one would think scientists would want to have some contact with the next generation and try to encourage them to pursue science, math and engineering, as well as science education.