Dynamism of a Car

Following the Science into 2022

Following the science is a catchphrase in wide circulation throughout this past year with good reason. Scientists have been warning us about a number of threats to humanity and, at times, we seem to have dismissed those threats. Of course, COVID-19 and climate change are two very prominent examples that come to mind. But many smaller issues come our way every day. And frequently, self-appointed experts step up to dispute what good science tells us is true.

Despite all that fussing, though, it turns out the the public globally seems more ready than ever to follow the science into 2022. All we have to do is discern exactly what scientific research is and is not telling us.

Growing Trust

A new report from the Wellcome Foundation tells us that global trust in science grew during the pandemic of COVID-19. From 2018 to 2020 in global survey research, the proportion of people who said they trust science “a lot” jumped from 32 to 41 percent. This rise in trust was greatest among people who said they didn’t know a lot about it. So this trend is not one that reflects the viewpoint of elites – a much broader population is driving it.

Understanding how the public relates to science is vital for public health, says Lara Clements, Associate Director, Public Engagement & Campaigns at Wellcome:

“Trust has always been intrinsic to public health and success can only be achieved when communities are open to and readily understand the science. As such, this vast dataset can offer huge potential to learn how the public relates to science, particularly during this crucial stage of the pandemic.”

An Outlier in the U.S. Government?

This study was conducted during 2020 and early 2021. At at that point in the pandemic, the public view of science and how the government was using it in the United States was very different from the rest of the world. The U.S. public placed relatively high trust in science generally. Roughly 55 percent trusted it a lot.

But they had very low trust in their government’s use of it. In fact, only 21 percent believed that the U.S. was making decisions based on science. Compare that to Germany, where 63 percent of the public thought the government was using scientific advice to make policy decisions.

These data suggest the U.S. government was way out of line with public sentiment in the U.S. back in 2020 on the importance of science.

More Scientific Literacy?

Writing for Wired, Max Levy tells us that the pandemic has pushed us toward more scientific literacy:

“Not only are people increasing their scientific vocabularies, but they are learning important concepts from biology and public health. Students are showing more interest in the roles of scientists and health workers. The messy trial-and-error of the pandemic is showing nonscientists what the process of science really looks like – and we may all be better off for it.”

So despite all the attention that conspiracy theories get, it appears that people all over the world are putting more trust in science. They may even become more attuned to the nuances of it. If that’s a dividend of the pandemic, we’ll take it.

Click here, here, and here for more on the Wellcome Foundation report. For Levy’s reporting in Wired, click here.

Dynamism of a Car, painting by Luigi Russolo / WikiArt

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December 29, 2021

One Response to “Following the Science into 2022”

  1. December 29, 2021 at 7:34 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    I look forward to reading this Wellcome report–trust in public institutions is such a critical piece of the puzzle.

    And in the vein of your title, Ted, I would recommend this podcast called “Follow the Science.”

    I particularly dig the episodes when she interviews Peter Sandman–I suspect you would, too.