Public trust in scientists has increased in the US, reveals recent study

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Public trust in scientists has increased in the US, reveals recent study

Public confidence in scientists has risen in the United States (US), suggests a recent survey by Pew Research Center, Washington D.C. The survey was conducted in the 50 states and Washington D.C. in January 2019. The results suggest that US citizens have more faith in scientists to work in public interest than military leaders, politicians, journalists, religious heads, and business executives.

The survey, which included 4464 participants, attempted to capture the public’s perception and attitude toward researchers. Pew Research Center states that the new survey “shines a spotlight on trust and potential sources of mistrust connected with scientists” working in the fields of nutrition, medicine, and environment.  

Of the total respondents, 86% stated that they have a “fair amount” of trust in scientists. This percentage was much lower in 2016 at 78%, suggesting that people’s trust in researchers has increased in the past few years. Moreover, 35% people admitted to having a great deal of trust in scientists, while in the 2016 survey, only 21% did so. This is an indication that the public’s trust in researchers has definitely increased.

Some of the other highlights from the survey are presented below:

  • Merely 20% participants believe that researchers across various disciplines and industries are completely transparent about potential conflicts of interest.
  • Respondents trust professionals like doctors and dietitians who provide direct treatment and recommendations more than researchers in the same field: while 48% said that medical doctors’ recommendations are accurate, only 32% believed in medical scientists’ recommendations. Similarly, 47% trusted dieticians and only 24% did so in the case of nutrition scientists.
  • When it came to people’s opinion on scientists’ role in policy making, 73% Democrats believed scientists should participate in science policy debates while 56% Republicans said scientists should focus on research and not venture into policymaking.
  • More Black (59%) and Hispanic (60%) respondents see research misconduct as a potential problem than White (42%) respondents.

The results made it evident that participants who had greater knowledge of science expressed more trust in researchers. Susan Fiske, a social psychologist at Princeton University, said “I think part of what’s going on here is that the more [people] know, the more they trust.” Additionally, the public is more likely to trust research that is published open access and reviewed by independent committees.

What are your thoughts about the survey? Please share what your views in the comments section below.

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Published on: Aug 10, 2019

Sneha’s interest in the communication of research led her to her current role of developing and designing content for researchers and authors.
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