Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Do People Trust Scientists?

As a result of thinking about the criticism of scientists and science in regards to the autism-vaccine debate, I began to wonder how much do people trust scientists and professors.

There are a couple of recent polls that suggest despite the criticism that we often hear about scientists and science, people still trust them alot. The most recent poll I could find was conducted in 2008 in England. In these results, teachers are the 2nd most trusted profession, professors are 4th and scientists are 6th out of 16 categories of professions. In 2008, 87% of the population agreed that they would "generally trust them to tell the truth." 79% of people trusted professors and 72% of people trusted scientists.

In 2006 the Harris poll conducted a similar survey of Americans. In this case 22 professions were rated on trustworthiness. Teachers were rated 2nd with 83% saying they were trusted, scientists were rated 3rd with 77% trusting them, and professors were rated 5th with 75% trusting them. It is worth noting that between 1998 and 2006 all three groups lost a small amount of people trust-- about 2-3%.

These findings suggest that the public in England and the United States put a lot of trust in these professions. Despite the criticism that were sometimes here there appears to be considerable respect for the professionals. Those of us who practice these professions should treat this trust with care.

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