Another COVID Casualty: Pew Examines Americans’ View of Science

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How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted science research itself, but also how Americans view science in their daily lives? The Pew Research Center tackled these questions in two recent surveys.

Do Americans trust some professions over others? 

In, “Americans’ Trust in Scientists, Other Groups Declines,” Brian Kennedy, Alec Tyson, and Cary Funk of Pew surveyed 14,497 adults in the United States from November 30 to December 12, 2021, and found that Americans have had a grim view of both scientists and medial scientists since November 2020. The authors write that “trust in scientists and medical scientists, once seemingly buoyed by their central role in addressing the coronavirus outbreak, is now below pre-pandemic levels.” 

Overall, 29 percent of U.S. adults say they have a great deal of confidence in medical scientists to act in the best interests of the public, down from 40 percent who said this in November 2020. Similarly, the share with a great deal of confidence in scientists to act in the public’s best interests is down from 39 percent to 29 percent. Democrats remain more likely than Republicans to view medical scientists benignly, with nine of 10 Democrats or independents who lean Democratic saying they have great deal (44 percent) or a fair amount (46 percent) of confidence in medical scientists to act in the public’s best interests. Compare that to just 15 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners who have a great deal of confidence in medical scientists.  

The survey also found that support for medical scientists starkly declined from 43 percent to 29 percent over the past year, marking a huge shift from previous Pew Research Center surveys where white adults were more likely than people of color to respond that they highly trusted medical scientists. “There is now little difference between how white, Black and Hispanic adults see medical scientists,” write Kennedy, Tyson, and Funk.  

Does a higher level of education influence trust in science? 

Democrats or independents who lead Democratic with a college degree or higher responded to the survey in support of medical scientists, with 54 percent saying they have high confidence and 95 percent have at least a fair amount of confidence of them of acting in the public’s interest. This is a night-and-day contrast to how Republicans and Republican-leaning independents with a college degree think of medical scientists as acting in the public’s interest at 15 percent. 

When Americans think about science, how do they view its impact on society? 

Another Pew Research Center survey asked 10,260 adults in the U.S. from Nov. 1 to 7, 2021 their views on science. Alison Spencer and Cary Funk found that 65 percent of Americans say science has had a mostly positive effect on society, while 28 percent say it has had both positive and negative effects, and 7 percent responding that it has had a mostly negative effect.  

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Maxine Terry

Maxine Terry is a corporate communications specialist with SAGE Publishing. She previously covered judiciary and housing policy as a legislative assistant to U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.

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