Study reveals U.S. trends in public confidence in science


Americans have higher confidence in the scientific community than with civic, cultural and governmental institutions, but trust across all four sectors has waned in recent years, according to a new research paper co-authored by a University of Michigan political scientist.

Arthur Lupia, the Gerald R. Ford Distinguished University Professor of Political Science, worked with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Strategic Council to evaluate changes in public confidence in science and identify potential ways in which the scientific community can recapture Americans’ trust.

Their findings were recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Our analysis found that the scientific community’s commitment to peer review, self-correction and acknowledging the limitations in data and methodologies can help give the public more confidence in trusting scientific findings,” said Lupia, associate vice president for research – large-scale strategies, and executive director of U-M’s Bold Challenges Initiative.

Lupia also is a professor of political science in LSA and a research professor in the Institute for Social Research’s Center for Political Studies.

The study, “Trends in U.S. Public Confidence in Science and Opportunities for Progress,” was initiated by the National Academies’ Strategic Council for Research Excellence, Integrity, and Trust as part of a broader national effort to promote practices that strengthen scientific excellence and integrity, while also reducing bureaucratic burdens for researchers and academic institutions.

Lupia and his colleagues analyzed data from nationally representative surveys conducted by organizations that adhere to the American Association for Public Opinion Research Code of Professional Ethics and Practices or equivalent standards. This includes the Pew Research Center, the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, and the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

Many survey participants questioned whether scientists would set aside personal beliefs when presenting research conclusions. About 70% of the population sampled was skeptical that scientists would publish findings counter to their organization’s interest.

Other major takeaways include:

  • 84% of those surveyed believe it is somewhat or very important that scientists disclose which organizations have funded their research.
  • 92% stated it was somewhat or very important that researchers be open to changing their minds based on new evidence.
  • 74% of people surveyed reported that scientific findings produced by U.S. scientists in the past decade have benefited people like them.

“We found that the public expects scientists to adhere to core norms of science including transparency and correction,” said co-author Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the Elizabeth Ware Packard Professor at the Annenberg School for Communication, and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.


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