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WASHINGTON: A majority of Americans trust scientists, and to a greater degree than any other public-facing profession. What’s more, the country’s confidence in scientists has actually increased in the past few years.
The findings come from a nationally representative survey conducted by Pew of nearly 4,500 adult Americans this January, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center.
According to the survey, 86 percent of Americans have at least a “fair amount” of confidence in scientists as a whole to act in the best interests of the public, while 35 percent had a “great deal” of confidence in them. That represents a substantial increase from the 76 percent who said the same in 2016. And in fact, science is seemingly now the most trusted institution in the country, with the military (82 percent) and grade school principals (77 percent) close behind. Meanwhile, the public continues to largely distrust the media (47 percent), CEOs and business leaders (46 percent), and politicians (35 percent).
“It’s difficult to pin down the reasons for the upturn in public confidence,” Cary Funk, director of science and society research at Pew Research Center, told Gizmodo via email. “One thing to note is that the increase in confidence occurs among both Democrats and Republicans.”
People who identify as or lean Republicans, for instance, reported less confidence in scientists (82 percent) than did those who identify as or lean Democratic (91 percent). And when people were asked about specific areas of science—six in total—Republicans were much less likely to have a positive view of environmental researchers (40 percent) than Democrats (70 percent). A larger percentage of Democrats also believed that scientists should be actively involved in public debates about scientific policy, and that they had greater insight on these issues than the average person.
On the other side of things, learning more about science understandably makes us more willing to trust scientists. While only 75 percent of people with relatively little scientific knowledge trusted scientists, the same was true of 93 percent of people with relatively high scientific knowledge.