Trust in Science on the rise! Why are we concerned?

A recent post from Nature Magazine highlighted that the United States trust in scientists is now on par with trust in the United States military. The trust in science is on the rise according to a survey released on August 2nd with more than 4,000 participants.

The survey was conducted through the PEW Research Center in Washington DC,  and gathered that 86% of people in the United States have a “fair amount” to a “great deal” of confidence and trust in scientists with intentions to act in the public interest. This number is approximately 10% higher than levels in 2016, which was the first year that the PEW Research center conducted this study. This study was called “In Science We Trust.”

Proportionally speaking, the number with “a fair amount” to a “great deal” of confidence in scientists is highly comparable to the public trust in the military in comparison to 2016, when trust in researchers was ranked just below trust in the military.

Researchers also found signs of skepticism: only 20% of respondents said that scientists across all disciplines are upfront about potential conflicts of interest. From this study, environmental research received the most scrutiny, with only 35% of participants saying that scientists in this field provide accurate information all or most of the time. Participants were asked about their profession and those individuals who had more knowledge about science had higher confidence that researchers act with the public’s interest. Many survey participants reported providing open access to data alongside performing independent reviews of all research findings would help boost their trust and confidence in scientific studies.

Why might this phenomenon be increasing? The public’s trust in science is beneficial so long as scientists honestly report study findings.  In the past decade the National Institute of Health’s push for “Rigor and Reproducibility” has reached peak levels and could be the reason for the recent spike in the public’s trust in science. Developing trust takes decades, but shattering trust takes a matter of minutes. In the pursuit of science, we can only hope that scientists remain honest to keep this trend on the rise.

By Indira Purushothaman, Associate Editor

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