Valorised or Vilified – Has the Pandemic Increased Trust in Science?

A recent article on Research Europe features PERITIA Work Package Leaders Tracey Brown and Gloria Origgi. The publication discusses the question whether the Covid-19 pandemic will make researchers more trusted by the public.

After more than a year of the Covid-19 pandemic, Tracey Brown has noticed increasing signs that people are tiring of experts.

“There’s definitely a strong feeling there that ‘I’m just fed up of scientists all over the news’,” says the director of the nonprofit Sense about Science, which advocates for the public understanding of science and the use of evidence in policymaking.

Trust in research, and in those who create it, has played a crucial role in how the pandemic has evolved. It has been at play in the response of politicians to scientists’ modelling of the effects of various virus strains and pandemic interventions, and in the public’s readiness or otherwise to submit to social distancing, curfews, travel bans and vaccination.

Professor Origgi also offered her view on the effects of the pandemic on science and trust in science. Some lessons learned, she says, include reviewing the processes and transparency of science advice mechanisms.

“Opacity can have consequences for the trustworthiness of the whole process,” Origgi says. One issue she highlights is how people are appointed to advisory bodies, which sometimes is not made public. She believes “a more transparent process, a more inclusive, diverse way of composing these committees would surely improve trust in science”.

Origgi also foresees students and young researchers taking more of an interest in communication skills, and thinks science communication will be a hot topic for the next few years.

Both PERITIA investigators also highlight the importance of better science communication, referring to a Discussion Paper published recently by PERITIA’s partner organization ALLEA. It emphasizes the crucial role of better science communication in tackling disinformation and improving trust in science. Scientists should thus take more of an interest in communication skills and avoid patronising the public and overselling science. Intellectual humility is key when communicating scientific evidence.

What affects people’s trust in science, expertise and science advice is the core question investigated by PERITIA. Covid-19 has propelled this question into the centre of public debates. While there are increasing signs that the trust put in experts is affected negatively by a growing fatigue of complex debates on scientific issues, some argue that the pandemic has actually increased the understanding of science and the trust in science and scientists.

Learn more about PERITIA’s work on Covid-19 and trust on our dedicated webpage and join our upcoming PERITIA Lectures to participate in discussions about trust and truth in light of current events. See more on our events page.

Some of PERITIA’s lead investigators discussed the Covid-19 pandemic and science communication in relation to trust in science in our webinars that can be watched here.