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A newfound trust in science

Malin Otmani

I recently watched Sir David Attenborough’s documentary A Life on Our Planet. One of the takehome messages was that it is critical that we acknowledge and respect the scientific facts about climate change that have been presented to us, and that we adapt to this evidence in order to halt, and even reverse, some of the damage we’ve caused on this planet.

The same should apply for scientific facts about the new coronavirus and COVID-19 provided to us. The facts – although new findings replace old ones almost every day – must continuously be evaluated and taken into consideration when decisions are taken with the best and global health of our societies in mind.

“Findings from the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Civic Life and Public Health national opinion survey show that the factor that distinguished doubters of social distancing during the pandemic in the US was their trust in science.”

Unfortunately, many issues where scientific evidence should be the foundation have become politically polarized, including rejection of scientific evidence that misaligns with political preferences, and distrust in science has consequences. Findings from the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Civic Life and Public Health national opinion survey show that the factor that distinguished doubters of social distancing during the pandemic in the US was their trust in science. The fact that nearly half of US adults have doubts about science reveals why misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic has proliferated so easily.

“As we face the most challenging health crisis in our lifetime, science is more relevant, more trusted, and more important than ever to people all over the world.”

Now more than ever, believing that science is a public good and having trust in science is critical, and it seems as if, after years of fake news and political messages like “science is also only an opinion,” the trend is changing.

Recent surveys, including 3M’s 2020 State of Science Index and the Open Knowledge Foundation in the UK, suggest that public trust in science has risen during the pandemic. As we face the most challenging health crisis in our lifetime, science is more relevant, more trusted, and more important than ever to people all over the world.

The pharma industry has also made a stand, recently signing a historic vaccine safety pledge, saying they will “stand with science” and ensure public confidence in the scientific and regulatory process by which COVID-19 vaccines are evaluated and may ultimately be approved. This is particularly important when there is enormous pressure to do something premature.

This column was originally published in NLS No 04 2020