NCSE featured in Science's coverage of a new study on American trust in science

White House coronavirus briefing.

Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks to the White House press corps on COVID-19 in April 2020, watched by President Donald Trump (left) and Vice President Mike Pence (right). Credit: White House Coronavirus Update Briefing.

"Citizen attitudes toward science and technology, 1957–2020," a recent study coauthored by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch, was discussed by the journal Science (March 21, 2024).

The study, whose lead author was Jon D. Miller of the University of Michigan, compared two surveys of Americans conducted in late 2016 and late 2020, finding, as Science explained, "that the share of people with no strong opinion on whether they trust information from scientists and scientific bodies (a neutral rating on a five-point scale) plummeted from 75% to 29%."

"In getting off the fence," the article continued, "they appear to have migrated to either end of the continuum. The pool expressing low or very low trust in scientific expertise grew from 2% to 13%, whereas those holding science in high or very high regard jumped from 22% to 57%. Those shifts occurred regardless of political affiliation."

The likely cause of the shifts was the COVID-19 pandemic. Respondents were presumably aware of the Trump administration's criticism of public health authorities such as Anthony Fauci. "But they also were desperate to find good information about the pandemic," Miller explained. "So mistrust increased, but trust increased even more."

Miller told Science that it's challenging to poll Americans on their views about science because it is not a salient issue for many. "They may have never even met a scientist or understand what scientists do," he observed. As a result, Miller and his colleagues employ a series of questions about the sources of scientific information that people report regarding as trustworthy.

NCSE's Branch found the results of the study to be generally encouraging, telling Science, "The Trump administration bent but didn't break American trust in science."

Glenn Branch
Short Bio

Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.