The latest edition reveals that there is an undiminished high level of trust in science, even when it comes to subjects such as vaccinations and climate change. There is some variation in this finding depending on the group surveyed: trust levels are highest among the highly educated.

Resolving problems

Science received an average score of seven. The judiciary came in second with a score of 6.5, while other institutions did not score higher than a six.

 The number of people who have the expectation that science can help resolve various problems has increased since 2015. And just like in previous years, the public have almost exclusively positive associations with science.

 The term ‘trust’ – a somewhat ambiguous concept – was divided into three characteristics for the purpose of the survey: competence, reliability, and integrity. Almost 80 percent of the Dutch public believes scientists carry out their work carefully and are competent and reliable, in spite of differences of opinion among their ranks.

Government and industry

However, this trust in science is not unconditional. Do scientists sometimes manipulate their research to obtain desired outcomes? Among those surveyed, 23 percent believed this to be the case, and this level of distrust increases when scientists collaborate with government (34 percent) or – worse yet – with industry (41 percent).

Jos de Jonge, one of the authors of the study, feels that this scepticism is understandable. “Distrust is an innate human trait. For example, politicians say they’ll do one thing, only for them to do something completely different a few months later. That is a recognisable pattern for many people, so it’s not so unusual to say you don’t fully trust it.”

The survey reveals that the Dutch public is not really convinced that government always converts scientific insights into policy. Many people suspect that government only uses the results when it is opportune to do so at a given moment.

Vital importance

This kind of distrust is detrimental to science and society, says De Jonge. University scientists are of vital importance to innovation and progress. “Philips can’t develop new diagnostic equipment for treating cancer without patients or without consulting academic hospitals” he says by way of example. “And conversely, UMCs can’t do it on their own either. The same also applies to pharmaceutical research and development.”

Melanie Peters, director of the Rathenau Instituut, agrees. “The fact that our trust in scientists and scientific results declines when these are commissioned by government or industry creates a challenge for us all”, she writes in the foreword.