Press release

Public trust in scientists rose during the Covid-19 pandemic

Insights from the Wellcome Global Monitor – the largest global survey of how people think and feel about science – found levels of trust in scientists have increased since 2018, placing it on par with doctors and nurses. During the Covid-19 pandemic, more than three-quarters of people globally said they trust science (80%) and scientists (77%) either ‘a lot’ or ‘some.'

Notably, people who said they trust in science and scientists ‘a lot,’ rose by nine percentage points since the 2018 survey – 41% and 43% respectively. This means those trusting in scientists ‘a lot’ is now on par with trust in doctors and nurses (45%). In every country surveyed, however, only a minority of people said that government leaders valued the expertise of scientists ‘a lot’.

Conducted by Gallup World Poll, the Wellcome Global Monitor asked more than 119,000 people in 113 countries and territories, aged 15 years and over about their views on science during the pandemic.

Carried out between August 2020 to February 2021, the survey captured insights during a time when cases were surging in many regions and the world was awaiting the results of vaccine trials. It offers an insightful snapshot of the impact of Covid-19 on people’s lives at a time when science was in the public eye like never before.

Trust in science 

People’s trust in a number of institutions all rose slightly between 2018 and 2020, including in doctors and nurses, charity workers, journalists and national governments, while their trust in people in their neighbourhood declined slightly. Other key findings include:

  • Doctors and nurses were the most trusted institution globally. In 2020, 45% said they had ‘a lot’ of trust in them and 43% said they had ‘a lot’ of trust in scientists.1
  • People in Australia & New Zealand trusted scientists ‘a lot’ the most (62%) and sub-Saharan Africa, the least (19%). In East Asia trust rose by the largest margin from 2018 (33%) to 2020 (49%).
  • Trust in science rose in people who said they have ‘some’ science knowledge in 2020 (48%) vs 2018 (39%) and those who knew ‘not much’ or ‘nothing at all about science’ in 2020 (33%) vs 2018 (25%).
  • People’s belief that their government valued scientists’ opinions and expertise was most prevalent where overall confidence in the government itself was highest.

The Covid-19 pandemic has thrust scientists into the spotlight, where they have provided information and guidance affecting the day-to-day lives of billions of people.

In both 2018 and 2020, we saw a link between people’s perceived knowledge of science and their trust in science. As the pandemic has brought science into more people’s lives, it is perhaps no surprise that people’s trust in science and scientists has risen so much.

Trust has always been intrinsic to public health and success can only be achieved when communities are open to and readily understand the science. This vast dataset can offer huge potential to learn how the public relate to science, particularly during this crucial stage of the pandemic.

Lara Clements, Associate Director, Public Engagement & Campaigns at Wellcome

Governments have a vital role in implementing scientific recommendations and the Wellcome Global Monitor asked people’s view on whether their governments value scientific advice. Findings included:

  • Globally, 25% said government leaders placed ‘a lot’ of value on the opinions and expertise of scientists.2
  • People in East Asia were most likely to believe leaders placed ‘a lot’ of value on the opinions of scientists (39%). Eastern Europe and Latin America were the most sceptical, with 47% in both regions saying their leaders place ‘not much’ or no value at all on scientists opinions.
  • Doctors and nurses were deemed by people as most likely to base decisions about Covid-19 on scientific advice (63%) followed by the World Health Organization (48%) then national governments (41%).3

Global co-operation 

The pandemic has heightened the need for strong geopolitical relations, resilient health infrastructure and pandemic preparedness. The Wellcome Global Monitor explored people’s opinions on government spending to prevent and cure diseases.

  • Generally, people from high-income regions, where there is traditionally a focus on international aid, were more likely to say their government should spend money to help other countries prevent and cure diseases wherever they occur. Three-quarters of people in Western Europe (76%) strongly and somewhat agreed with this approach.4
  • People from traditional middle-income countries, where focus is often on domestic priorities, were more likely to back government spending on preventing and curing diseases only if they pose a risk to their country.

This survey highlights a clear willingness and generosity of people in mainly high-income countries to prevent and cure diseases wherever they occur. However, since this survey was conducted, stark inequalities in the response to the Covid-19 pandemic have unforgivably left low- and middle-income countries further behind particularly with access to vaccines. 

Although this report provides a snapshot of views in 2020, prior to successful vaccines or licensed treatments, it’s vital that we can listen to – and understand – people’s views. These can help design more sustainable, collaborative and equitable solutions to end the pandemic and tackle other urgent global health challenges.

A photograph of the person, Beth Thompson.

Beth Thompson

Associate Director, Policy

Wellcome

Wellcome has been supporting global research and development to help the world overcome Covid-19. We’re calling for urgent international action to ensure lifesaving tests, treatments and vaccines reach those most in need around the world. Find out more about our work: https://wellcome.org/what-we-do/our-work/coronavirus-covid-19 


Wellcome Global Monitor 2020: How Covid-19 affected people’s lives and their views about science is available to download, alongside the full dataset, on Wellcome’s website. This reports follows the The role of science in mental health: Insights from the Wellcome Global Monitor report published in October 2020.

Notes to Editors 

References

1Data for How much do you trust each of the following: science; scientists in this country journalists in this country; doctors and nurses in your country; people who work at charities in this country; national government in this country; people in your neighbourhood? Do you trust them a lot, some, not much, or not at all? is available in the full dataset.

2As per page 35 of the report: In response to In general, how much do you think the leaders in the national government value the opinions and expertise of scientists?

3As per page 31 of the report: In response to In general, how much do you think each of the following make decisions about coronavirus based on scientific advice?

4As per page 18 of the report: In response to Please tell me whether you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree: After the Covid-19 crisis ends, the government of [this country] should spend money to help other countries prevent and cure diseases wherever they occur.

Background

The Wellcome Global Monitor is a global survey is conducted by Gallup World Poll. This is the second global survey conducted by Gallup World Poll for Wellcome. In 2018, the first Wellcome Global Monitor was published.

The Wellcome Global Monitor 2020 sought to gather global findings and trends on how people think and feel about science – from how people manage their mental health to how much they trust scientists. The data can help focus global health research and inform decision-makers by providing an understanding of people’s views in different countries, cultural contexts and economies.

For the Covid-19 report, more than 119,000 people in more than 113 countries and territories were asked about the effects of Covid-19 on their lives, the global effort to prevent and cure diseases, and their views of science amid the pandemic. Approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 years and older, were interviewed by per country or territory.

Methodology

The pandemic required Gallup to alter their methodology for global data collection. In order to reduce the risk of Covid-19 exposure for interviewers and respondents, the Gallup World Poll surveys were carried out via telephone. Detailed analysis of this change in data collection can be found in Appendix A of the report. Additionally, there is an accompanying full methodology report with full background and details. 
The breakdown of the 11 global regions used for analysis in the Wellcome Global Monitor can be found in Appendix C of the report.

Notably, the results for questions specifically about Covid-19 are unavailable in China, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. However, these countries are included in the more general analyses of trust in science and other institutions.

Data was collected in most countries or territories between September 2020 and December 2020, with full details available in the appendix of the report:

  • Jan 2020 – March 2020: developing and testing the survey questionnaire 
  • April 2020 – July 2020: the fieldwork prep 
  • 4 August 2020 – 18 Feb 2021: data collected (via telephone interviews with nationally representative samples in 113 countries and territories)
  • March 2021 – May 2021: results analysed 
  • June 2021 – August 2021: report written

About Wellcome

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