Revenge of the Experts: Will COVID-19 Renew or Diminish Public Trust in Science?

68 Pages Posted: 29 May 2020 Last revised: 1 Dec 2020

See all articles by Barry Eichengreen

Barry Eichengreen

University of California, Berkeley; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Cevat Giray Aksoy

European Bank for Reconstruction and Development; King’s College London; IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Orkun Saka

City, University of London; London School of Economics; Systemic Risk Centre & STICERD; CESifo Network

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Date Written: November 30, 2020

Abstract

It is sometimes said that an effect of the COVID-19 pandemic will be heightened appreciation of the importance of scientific research and expertise. We test this hypothesis by examining how exposure to previous epidemics affected trust in science and scientists. Building on the “impressionable years hypothesis” that attitudes are durably formed during the ages 18 to 25, we focus on individuals exposed to epidemics in their country of residence at this particular stage of the life course. Combining data from a 2018 Wellcome Trust survey of more than 75,000 individuals in 138 countries with data on global epidemics since 1970, we show that such exposure has no impact on views of science as an endeavor but that it significantly reduces trust in scientists and in the benefits of their work. We also illustrate that the decline in trust is driven by the individuals with little previous training in science subjects. Finally, our evidence suggests that epidemic-induced distrust translates into lower compliance with health-related policies in the form of negative views towards vaccines and lower rates of child vaccination.

Keywords: COVID-19, epidemics, trust, science, scientist

JEL Classification: P16, Z13, Z18

Suggested Citation

Eichengreen, Barry and Aksoy, Cevat Giray and Saka, Orkun, Revenge of the Experts: Will COVID-19 Renew or Diminish Public Trust in Science? (November 30, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3613554 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3613554

Barry Eichengreen

University of California, Berkeley ( email )

310 Barrows Hall
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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

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Cevat Giray Aksoy (Contact Author)

European Bank for Reconstruction and Development ( email )

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King’s College London ( email )

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London, WC2A 2AE
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IZA Institute of Labor Economics ( email )

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Germany

Orkun Saka

City, University of London ( email )

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London School of Economics

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Systemic Risk Centre & STICERD

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CESifo Network

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