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Americans’ trust in science, scientist continues decline: Report

Americans’ trust in science, scientist continues decline: Report

America’s trust in scientists and positive views of science has continued to decline, according to a new report.

The Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank, asked a random sample of 8,842 American adults this fall about their views on science and scientists. They found that roughly a quarter of Americans — 27% — said they have not too much or no confidence in scientists to act in the public’s best interests, compared to 12% who said the same in April 2020. “Ratings of medical scientists mirror the trend seen in ratings of scientists generally,” the report notes.

People with high trust in science are more likely to engage in behaviors that align with expert guidance, such as getting vaccinated for Covid-19 and the flu, the report says. However, the share expressing the strongest level of trust in scientists fell from 39% in 2020 to 23%.

The percentage of Americans who hold a positive view of science’s impact on society also has declined in recent years. In the new survey, 57% of respondents said science has had a mostly positive effect on society, compared to 65% percent in November 2021.

Despite recent declines in public sentiment, it’s also true that 73% of U.S. adults said they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in scientists to act in the public’s best interests.

“I continue to appreciate that there’s still a lot more positive views about scientists than negative views and that they’re still among the most positively viewed groups” compared to people in other professions, said John C. Besley, Ellis N. Brandt Professor of Public Relations at Michigan State University, who studies public attitudes toward science. (By comparison, just 35% of Americans expressed confidence in business leaders acting in the public’s best interests, and 24% said the same of elected officials.)

However, more efforts need to be made to combat mistrust and promote greater confidence, Besley said: “The scientific community needs to work together to communicate in ways that give more people a reason to trust scientists. That means making sure scientists are visibly listening to a wide range of voices, doing work that benefits everyone, and protecting the integrity of their work.”

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