Confidence in science remains high, but public questions adherence to science’s norms

Confidence in science has nonetheless declined over the past few years, since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, as it has for most other major social institutions.

In a new article titled “Trends in U.S. Public Confidence in Science and Opportunities for Progress,” members of the Strategic Council of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine examine what has happened to public confidence in science, why it has happened, and what can be done to elevate it. The researchers write that while there is broad public agreement about the values that should underpin science, the public questions whether scientists actually live up to these values and whether they can overcome their individual biases.

A scientific researcher on a computer in a lab.
Image: iStock/gorodenkoff

The paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), relies in part on new data being released in connection with this article by the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC). The data come from the Annenberg Science Knowledge (ASK) survey conducted February 22-28, 2023, with an empaneled, nationally representative sample of 1,638 U.S. adults who were asked about their views on scientists and science. The margin of error for the entire sample is ± 3.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The survey is directed by APPC director Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a member of the Strategic Council and a co-author of the PNAS paper.

The results show that the public has high levels of confidence in scientists’ competence, trustworthiness, and honesty—84% of survey respondents in February 2023 are very or somewhat confident that scientists provide the public with trustworthy information in the scientists’ area of inquiry. Many in the public question whether scientists share their values and whether scientists can overcome their own biases.

Additionally, the public has “consistent beliefs about how scientists should act and beliefs that support their confidence in science despite their concerns about scientists’ possible biases and distortive incentives.” However, when asked about scientists’ biases, just over half of U.S. adults say scientists provide the public with unbiased conclusions about their area of inquiry and just 42% say scientists generally are “able to overcome their human and political biases.”

Read more at Annenberg Public Policy Center.