How the pandemic has hurt public trust in science

A number of factors have combined to undermine public trust in science during the pandemic, including the rapid evolution of COVID-19 science, mixed messaging from leaders, a torrent of misinformation, political interference in federal science agencies, and political polarization, according to experts.

Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, was among those quoted on the topic in a January 25, 2021 article in Chemical & Engineering News.

He noted that the urgency of the pandemic has put the scientific process—which often takes years and decades of debate—on display. “All of the sudden everyone is watching scientists, and they are seeing all the messiness of how science happens,” he said. “People are seeing the sausage being made, and they don’t like what they see.”

Viswanath also commented on how former President Trump’s touting of the drug hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19—even though there was no data to back it up—propelled media coverage of the issue. “It becomes a spiral of amplification, and that’s how we have mainstream misinformation,” he said.

Read the Chemical & Engineering News article: Will public trust in science survive the pandemic?