An anchor in troubled times: Trust in science before and within the COVID-19 pandemic in Germany

Abstract

Researchers, policy makers and science communicators have become increasingly been interested in factors that affect public’s trust in science. Recently, one such potentially important driving factor has emerged, the COVID-19 pandemic. Have trust in science and other science-related beliefs changed in Germany from before to during the pandemic? To investigate this, we re-analyzed data from a set of representative surveys conducted in April, May, and November 2020, which were obtained as part of the German survey Science Barometer, and compared it to data from the last annual Science Barometer survey that took place before the pandemic (in September 2019). Results indicate that German’s trust in science increased substantially after the pandemic began and slightly declined in the months thereafter, still being higher in November 2020 than in September 2019. Moreover, trust was closely related to expectations about how politics should handle the pandemic. We also find that increases of trust were most pronounced among the higher-educated. But as the pandemic unfolded, decreases of trust were more likely among supporters of the populist right-wing party AfD. We discuss the sustainability of these dynamics as well as implications for science communication.

Publication
In PLoS One, 17(2).
Development of trust in science and research and trust in politics in the context of the coronavirus pandemic in Germany.

Development of trust in science and research and trust in politics in the context of the coronavirus pandemic in Germany.

Niels G. Mede
Niels G. Mede
Science Communication Researcher

I am a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Department of Communication and Media Research (IKMZ), University of Zurich, Switzerland. My research focuses on science communication, public opinion, populism and its implications for science and science communication, and survey methodology. From March to May 2022, I was a visiting scholar at the Department of Life Sciences Communication of the University of Wisconsin—Madison.