Scientists work for society?s growth

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These days, it can seem as if science is under assault. Climatologists are routinely questioned about what?s really causing global warming. Doctors can be disparaged for trying to vaccinate children against disease.

But for the U.S. public at large, scientists are generally seen as a trustworthy bunch. In fact, 86 percent of Americans hold at least ?a fair amount? of confidence that scientists work for the public good, according to a survey released August 2 by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C.

That?s far better than how respondents felt about what motivates politicians (only 35 percent said they were fairly confident that elected officials acted in the public interest), journalists (47 percent) or even religious leaders (57 percent). And that general trust in the goodwill of scientists has grown steadily over the last four years, from 76 percent in 2016.

But confidence falters on narrower questions of scientists? trustworthiness. For instance:

1. The kind of scientist matters.

Nearly half ? 48 percent ? thought doctors gave fair and accurate information, but only 32 percent thought the same of medical researchers. Dieticians also were considered trustworthy by 47 percent of respondents, while that number fell to 24 percent for nutrition scientists. Overall, scientists whose work involved engaging with the public tended to be more trusted than those focused on research;

2. How research is funded matters.

More than half of respondents ? 58 percent ? said they are less trusting of studies financed by industry. And there?s skepticism that scientists reveal all of their industry ties: Fewer than 2 in 10 people thought scientists always disclosed conflicts of interest with industry or faced stern consequences for failing to do so;

3. Sometimes, who is being asked matters?

On questions of scientific misconduct, black and Hispanic respondents were more likely than whites to see it as a ?big problem.? That could reflect wariness due to past cases of experiments being conducted without patients? consent, such as the decades-long Tuskegee Study in which hundreds of black men with syphilis were denied treatment, the Pew report notes. Or it could reflect the fact that, when it comes to environmental justice, these communities are often more likely to be affected by unchecked pollution.

?The issue of trust in scientists is part of a broader conversation that society is having on the role and value of experts,? says Cary Funk, the director of Pew?s science and society research. ?What we wanted to do was get a look at the potential sources of mistrust.?

Conducted from January 7 to January 21, the survey questioned 4,464 randomly selected adults who are demographically representative of the U.S. population, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.9 percentage points. It focused on three scientific fields: medicine, nutrition, and environment. But it did not look at specific topics that have become highly politicized, for example, childhood vaccination campaigns.

Disclaimer- This information is entirely by a computer program and has not been created or edited by Just Learning.


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