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Study finds positive feeling towards scientists across Europe

Image: Guido van Nispen [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

Sentiment found to be less upbeat about scientists who work with governments

People in a variety of European countries have “positive” feelings about scientists, “in strong contrast” to their feelings about governments, according to a study.

The study, carried out by the Policy Institute of King’s College London as part of the EU-funded Peritia project on trust in science, surveyed about 12,000 people aged 18 and over in Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Poland and the UK.

It reported on 25 May that “only a very small minority of people feel negatively towards scientists working at universities”, with an average of just 6 per cent of respondents reporting an “unfavourable” view and 53 per cent a “favourable” one.

Views were similar across the six countries, although the report highlighted Ireland and the UK as having the most positive views, at 56 per cent and 55 per cent respectively.

Positivity was lower towards scientists working in companies, about whom 11 per cent of those surveyed reported negative feelings and 36 per cent cited a positive sentiment.

Governments held in low regard

For scientists working with government, the sentiment was even more negative, although views were more divided. In Poland, 32 per cent of people reported feeling negatively towards this group, but only 12 per cent did so in Ireland and Norway, and 14 per cent in the UK.

This reflected negative sentiment towards governments more generally, with 36 per cent of respondents reporting negativity toward their national government.

“This major study across six countries clearly shows the challenge many governments face with the public’s perceptions of their trustworthiness,” said Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute. “None of the countries in the study do particularly well.”

Earlier surveys found that trust in scientists rose during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A survey conducted by Gallup World Poll between August 2020 and February 2021, involving 119,000 people aged 15 and over in 113 countries and territories, found that trust in science and scientists had risen 9 percentage points since a 2018 survey.

That survey also found that a belief that governments valued scientists’ opinions and expertise was most prevalent where confidence in government was highest.