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Pew – Mixed Messages about Public Trust in Science

Mixed Messages about Public Trust in Science – By Cary Funk – This article was originally published in the Fall 2017 edition of Issues in Science and Technology magazine.

“For many years, the scientific community has been wondering—and often worrying—about the extent to which the public trusts science. Some observers have warned of a “war on science,” and recently some have expressed concern about the rise of populist antagonism to the influence of experts. But public confidence in the scientific community appears to be relatively strong, according to a nationally representative survey of adults in the United States by the Pew Research Center in 2016. Furthermore, scientists are the only group among the 13 institutions covered in the General Social Survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center where public confidence has remained stable since the 1970s. However, this favorable attitude is somewhat tepid. Only four in 10 people reported a great deal of confidence in the scientific community. A series of other Pew Research Center studies, however, have revealed that public trust in scientists in matters connected with childhood vaccines, climate change, and genetically modified (GM) foods is more varied. Overall, many people hold skeptical views of climate scientists and GM food scientists; a larger share express trust in medical scientists, but there, too, many express what survey analysts call a “soft” positive rather than a strongly positive view. There are, of course, important differences in opinions about scientists in each of these domains. For example, people’s views about climate scientists vary strongly depending on their political orientation, consistent with more than a decade of partisan division over this issue. But public views about GM food scientists and medical scientists are not strongly divided along political lines. Instead, views about GM food issues connect with people’s concerns about the relationship between food and health; most people are skeptical of scientists working on GM food issues and are deeply skeptical of information from food industry leaders on this issue. On the other hand, older adults, people who care more about childhood vaccine issues, and those who know more about science are, generally, more trusting of medical scientists working on childhood vaccine issues than are other people…”

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