In an era where science and politics appear to be at odds, Americans are increasingly confident of scientific opinions, new research shows. Public confidence in scientific experts is on the rise, with 6 in 10 Americans saying scientists should play more of an active role in policy debates on scientific issues, according to a recent survey published by bipartisan think-tank Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C.
“The survey finds public confidence in scientists on par with confidence in the military,” said the authors of the Pew report entitled “Trust and Mistrust in Americans’ Views of Scientific Experts.” That certainty “also exceeds the levels of public confidence in other groups and institutions, including the media, business leaders and elected officials.”
The study also showed that Americans tend to trust scientists who directly provide treatments and recommendations to the public more than scientists who are focused on research.
“Trust in science is part of a broader conversation in society over the role and value of experts so this ties with ongoing questions about the degree to which the public supports and trusts scientists and their work,” said author Cary Funk, director of science and society research at the Pew Research Center, in an interview. A positive development, she adds, is that the upswing seen in the report reflects in both Republicans and Democrats.
Among other notable findings in the survey:
- More than 80% of Americans said they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in both the military and scientists.
- Public confidence in scientists is also higher than confidence in media, business leaders and elected officials. Out of the U.S. adults surveyed, 47% said they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the news media, 46% said the same about business leaders and 35% about elected officials.
- Gaps exist between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to trust in scientists working on environmental issues. Out of those surveyed, 27% leaning Republican said they have a great deal of confidence in scientists, and 43% of those leaning Democrat said the same. About 55% of those leaning Republican said they have a fair amount of confidence in scientists, while 48% leaning Democrat said the same.
- “There are also clear political divisions over the role of scientific experts in policy matters, with Democrats more likely to want experts involved and to trust their judgment,” said the authors of the report. The majority of Democrats (73%) said scientists should take an active role in scientific policy debates. More than 50% of Republicans said scientists should focus on establishing “sound scientific facts” and don’t get involved in policy debates.
The two groups also showed divergent opinions on whether scientific experts are better at making decisions on scientific policy issues than other people. More than 50% of Democrats said scientists are best prepared to make policy decisions governing science, while 66% of the surveyed Republicans said their decisions are “no different from or worse than other people’s.”
The Pew report published last week is based on a survey involving 4,464 adults and was conducted in January 2019.