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Politics Hasn't Shaken Most Americans' Faith in Science: Study
  • Posted March 12, 2024

Politics Hasn't Shaken Most Americans' Faith in Science: Study

The Trump administration's attacks on scientists didn't shake Americans' confidence in science, a new analysis shows.

"The proportion of Americans with a low level of trust in scientific expertise rose from 3% in 2016 to 13% in 2020," said lead author Jon Miller, a research scientist emeritus at the Center for Political Studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. "But that increase was more than matched by a rise in the proportion of Americans with a high level of trust in scientific expertise, from 23% to 58%."

Former President Donald Trump's attacks on medical experts -- especially Dr. Anthony Fauci, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases -- fueled polarization during the pandemic but made the question of scientific expertise more important to many Americans, the researchers noted.

While critics condemned the administration's views and actions on such topics as climate change, environmental protection and the COVID pandemic, even conservative Republicans' trust in science rose more than distrust between 2016 and 2020, researchers found.

Their study -- published recently in the journal Science and Public Policy -- evaluated changes between 2016 and 2020 alongside a series of national public opinion surveys that began in 1957.

The surveys show that Americans have been highly appreciative of the benefits of science and technology and have had little fear about the dangers.

In 2016, interest in science and technology, college-level study of these subjects and education level were the strongest predictors of appreciation for the benefits of science and technology. Fundamentalist religious beliefs were the strongest predictor of apprehension about the dangers.

The trends were similar in 2020. 

But their findings suggested that a basic level of scientific understanding enabled Americans who had been uninterested in science and tech to come up to speed on current events, especially the pandemic, researchers said.

"The Trump administration's contempt for scientific and technological expertise was rightly a cause for concern, but our study shows that the American public was by and large unaffected," Miller said in a university news release. "But it will be necessary to continue to improve the public's understanding of science and technology to ensure that it is equipped to weather any further storms."

More information

The Pew Research Center has more about Americans' trust in science and scientists

SOURCE: University of Michigan, news release, March 11, 2024

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