In science we trust: Confidence in America’s scientists still high

March 4, 2024
Written By:
Kelsey Keeves, Office of the Vice President for Research
Concept illustration of public trust in science. Image credit: Nicole Smith, made with DALL-E3

Despite waning confidence since the pandemic, Americans still have more faith in the scientific community than in many other civic, cultural and governmental institutions, according to a University of Michigan researcher.

An analysis led by Arthur Lupia, U-M professor of political science, shows that 73% of Americans have “a fair amount” or “a great deal” of confidence in scientists to act in the best interest of the public—a figure higher yet for medical scientists (77%), specifically.

By comparison, those levels of confidence are similar to those of the military (74%) and police officers (69%), but are higher than confidence levels for journalists (42%), business leaders (35%) and elected officials (24%).

Lupia, U-M associate vice president for research for large-scale strategies and executive director of the university’s Bold Challenges Initiative, led an effort by National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Strategic Council for Excellence, Integrity and Trust to evaluate changes in public confidence in science in recent years and identify potential ways for the scientific community to earn higher levels of trust from the American public.

Arthur Lupia
Arthur Lupia

“Our analysis found that the scientific community’s commitment to practices such as basing conclusions on the best available evidence and disclosing potential conflicts of interest can help give the public more confidence in trusting scientific findings,” said Lupia, the Gerald R. Ford Distinguished University Professor.

Lupia and colleagues from the National Academies’ Strategic Council examined data from nationally representative surveys by the Pew Research Center, National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago and Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania—organizations that adhere to the highest methodological and ethical standards.

Key findings include:

  • 84% of those surveyed reported they are either very confident or somewhat confident that scientists provide the public with trustworthy information
  • 92% stated it was somewhat or very important that researchers be open to changing their minds based on new evidence
  • 84% believe it is somewhat or very important that scientists disclose which organizations have funded their research
  • 74% 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.

The study, published recently in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 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.