More people around the world trust scientists, poll finds

WASHINGTON — Trust in scientists and scientific methods has increased globally and with people in the United States and Australia, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

The 2018 Global Trust in Science Index (GTRSI) is based on 1,000 global publics in 51 countries and ranks nations on the extent to which they express trust in the scientific community.

“Scientists worldwide increasingly have a public receptive to their findings and messages,” writes Aaron Smith, director of the Pew Research Center’s Social and Demographic Trends project and lead author of the GTRSI. “Moreover, scientific issues and questions can surface during economic times such as now.”

The survey found trust in scientists varies by nation and some respondents expressed skepticism about scientific findings. However, “such skepticism is vastly lower than trust in previous years,” Smith noted.

Eight in 10 Americans said they had a lot of trust in scientists in 2018, and overall respondents showed “a substantial increase in trust in scientists over the past decade,” says Smith. Similarly, Australians expressed “a substantial increase in trust in scientists in 2018,” he said.

The survey found the shift in U.S. trust is not as pronounced as it was in Australia. “While the trust in scientists in the U.S. has increased over the past decade, trust remained relatively low and remains below the best levels measured in 2011 and 2015,” he said.

However, the shift in Japan “has been significant since 2015,” Smith said.

Elsewhere, he observed trust in scientists increased around the world, with the exceptions of Greece and Spain, and is highest in the United Kingdom (81 percent) and Canada (77 percent).

“The major exception to this worldwide pattern is in Greece, where trust in scientists has declined (from 64 percent in 2007) and has not yet recovered to the levels measured in 2007,” he said.

Part of the increase in trust globally came from the rise in people in Asia who say they have a lot of trust in scientists. In Turkey, a majority (53 percent) said they had a lot of trust in scientists, and in China, respondents said they have a “great deal” of trust (87 percent).

In response to the results, Howard Kohr, President and CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said the “key to credibility and trust is to be transparent about your data, your methods and about the value you deliver.”

While trust in scientists varies widely by country, some nations demonstrate higher levels of scientific integrity than others, said Dr. Kevin Fenton, Chair of the International Bureau of Investigation of the World Meteorological Organization.

Fenton said “science has gone global and it’s becoming a priority for national political leaders,” adding that improving science ethics and making scientific knowledge accessible to all will help in the fight against climate change.

While the survey showed a bump in confidence in scientists internationally, people in the United States still remain cautious about government scientists, the GTRSI found.

Pew researchers found that “roughly half of U.S. adults (51 percent) have at least a fair amount of trust in the work of government scientists,” Smith wrote. However, respondents to the survey reported they had no trust in climate scientists.

The GTRSI was conducted online in 51 countries during February and March 2018 and follows up on a survey conducted in 2017.

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