Trust in scientists and their role in society across 67 countries

This large-scale collaborative study analyzes the public trust in scientsts in 67 countries worldwide, predictors and correlates of trust, cross-national and cross-cultural variation, as well as public perceptions of the role of science in society and policy-making.

Abstract

Scientific information is crucial for evidence-based decision-making. Public trust in science can help decision-makers act based on the best available evidence, especially during crises such as climate change or the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in recent years the epistemic authority of science has been challenged, causing concerns about low public trust in scientists. Here we interrogated these concerns with a pre-registered 67-country survey of 71,417 respondents on all inhabited continents and find that in most countries, a majority of the public trust scientists and think that scientists should be more engaged in policymaking. We further show that there is a discrepancy between the public’s perceived and desired priorities of scientific research. Moreover, we find variations between and within countries, which we explain with individual- and country-level variables, including political orientation. While these results do not show widespread lack of trust in scientists, we cannot discount the concern that lack of trust in scientists by even a small minority may affect considerations of scientific evidence in policymaking. These findings have implications for scientists and policymakers seeking to maintain and increase trust in scientists.

Figure 3: Relationship of left-right political orientation and trust in scientists

Figure 3: Relationship of left-right political orientation and trust in scientists

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Please cite as: Cologna, V., Mede, N. G., Berger, S., Besley, J., Brick, C., Joubert, M., Maibach, E. W., Mihelj, S., Oreskes, N., Schäfer, M. S., van der Linden, S., Abdul Aziz, N. I., Abdulsalam, S., Abu Shamsi, N., Aczel, B., Adinugroho, I., Alabrese, E., Aldoh, A., Alfano, M., . . . Zwaan, R. A. (2024). Trust in scientists and their role in society across 67 countries. Preprint. https://doi.org/10.31219/osf.io/6ay7s

Link to preprint: https://doi.org/10.31219/osf.io/6ay7s

News reporting: Nature News and Spektrum (German)

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Niels G. Mede
Niels G. Mede
Science Communication Researcher

I am a Senior Research and Teaching Associate at the Department of Communication and Media Research (IKMZ) of the University of Zurich, where I also completed a PhD in communication studies. My work focuses on science communication, public opinion, populism, digital media, climate change communication, and survey methodology. In 2022 and 2023, I was a visiting researcher at the Department of Life Sciences Communication of the University of Wisconsin—Madison and the Oxford Internet Institute. In June 2024, I join the Digital Media Research Centre of the Queensland University of Technology as a visiting scholar.