The Guardian view on trust in science and science trusts: Trump’s words mean nothing | Editorial

The news that it’s not just me who wants our politicians to listen to scientists does indeed seem to be true. Here in the UK, the proportion of those who feel “very confident” that evidence-based decision-making is possible has increased over the last year.

Across the western world, trust in scientists and science has not just reached a six-year high, as this chart from a Gallup poll out on Thursday shows – it has also hit an all-time high.

Gallup Global Trust in Scientists 2017 and 2016

The latest poll was conducted across 54 countries between June 15-22, taking into account more than 30,000 respondents, evenly split between adults in the online and telephone sample. The study also found an increase in support for climate change and environmental protection.

In the UK, trust in scientists hit a peak of 84% – that’s a big leap compared to the 66% seen in 2015. This is the third year in a row that trust in scientists has risen, but trust remains on a par with the level seen in 2006 and has not yet recovered from its post-9/11 low in 2007.

UK Trust in Scientists Update 2017

I suspect there are two key factors here: Brexit, if you are a scientist. Britain voted in favour of Brexit in a referendum in 2016; back in 2015, a similar survey, carried out by YouGov, found that 57% of people in the UK were in favour of Remain. And, a second referendum – while of course unlikely – was subsequently held in 2017, during which public trust in science and scientists increased by around a third.

Another factor, but perhaps not unexpected, is the fact that the world has exploded in complexity, notably with respect to climate change, environmental conservation and physics.

All this added up to a stronger sense that data-driven science has the practical ability to make decisions that are scientifically sound.

“The ever more complex world we live in today will continue to produce more evidence and research,” said Dan Leman, head of science & technology for global affairs at Gallup. “It will become increasingly important for leaders around the world to have access to this information and to decide on the direction of action for the most important decisions affecting their countries and the world as a whole.”

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