Infographic: Most Americans still trust scientists

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CreditL AP Photo/Alex Brandon

It’s easy to look around right now and conclude that popular public opinion has turned against scientists. Twitter hashtags have urged the president to fire Anthony Fauci. A widely shared video claimed government scientists planned the novel coronavirus pandemic.

But survey data suggests public trust in scientists is not actually eroding. In fact, it’s gone up during the pandemic. And while that may be surprising to people watching with concern as anti-vaccine extremists join forces with people who don’t want to wear facemasks, the dichotomy between a perceived anti-science zeitgeist and what people actually tell pollsters is nothing new. The scientific and medical communities remain among the most trusted institutions in America — even among people who might seem ideologically primed to reject them.

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“The war on science is really overblown,” said Erik Nisbet, a professor of communication at Ohio State University. That’s not to say, however, that scientists aren’t getting attacked. But Nisbet and other researchers say the divide between what we see in the news and what we see in the polls lies in conflating political rhetoric with public opinion. Just because political leaders demonize scientists (or demonize the other party for demonizing scientists) doesn’t mean most Americans are personally engaged in that fight.

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