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

18 Pages Posted: 3 Jun 2020

See all articles by Cevat Giray Aksoy

Cevat Giray Aksoy

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

Barry Eichengreen

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

Orkun Saka

University of Sussex; London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE)

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Date Written: June 3, 2020

Abstract

An effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is sometimes suggested, will be to reverse the secular trend toward questioning the value of scientific research and expertise. We analyze this hypothesis by examining how exposure to previous epidemics affected the confidence of individuals in science and scientists. Consistent with theory and evidence that attitudes are durably formed when individuals are in their impressionable years between the ages of 18 and 25, we focus on people who were exposed to epidemics in their country of residence at this stage of the life course. Combining data from a 2018 Wellcome Trust survey of more than 70,000 individuals in 160 countries with data on global epidemics since 1970, we show that such exposure has no impact on views of science as an endeavor or on opinions of whether the study of disease is properly an aspect of science, but that it significantly reduces confidence in scientists and the benefits of their work. These findings are robust to a variety of controls, empirical methods and sensitivity checks. We suggest some implications for how scientific findings are communicated and for how scientists seeking to inform and influence public opinion should position themselves in the public sphere.

Keywords: COVID-19, trust, science, impressionable years

JEL Classification: E60, F59

Suggested Citation

Aksoy, Cevat Giray and Eichengreen, Barry and Saka, Orkun, Revenge of the Experts: Will COVID-19 Renew or Diminish Public Trust in Science? (June 3, 2020). EBRD Working Paper No. 243, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3617825 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3617825

Cevat Giray Aksoy (Contact Author)

European Bank for Reconstruction and Development ( email )

One Exchange Square
London EC2A 2JN
United Kingdom

King’s College London ( email )

Aldwych
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

IZA Institute of Labor Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Barry Eichengreen

University of California, Berkeley ( email )

310 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

Orkun Saka

University of Sussex ( email )

Sussex House
Falmer
Brighton, Sussex BNI 9RH
United Kingdom

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

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