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Public trust in science

fact sheet
22 November 2023
science public trust

Photo: Bart van Overbeeke Fotografie/Hollandse Hoogte

How much trust have Dutch citizens in science? And how does the corona crisis affect this? Our trust in science is based on our hope and expectation that science will make our lives healthier, longer, more interesting and therefore more pleasant. Trust in science is an important parameter for assessing the impact of science. This factsheet contains a brief statistical overview of the current state of affairs concerning the trust of the Dutch citizens in science.

In short

  • Of all the examined institutions, people trust ‘science’ the most with a score of 7.42 (2021)
  • Due to the coronacrisis, trust in science has increased.
  • Trust in science in the Netherlands in 2020 is comparable to that of reference countries.

Public trust in science in the Netherlands

Trust in science was measured by the Rathenau Instituut in four surveys (2012, 2015, 2018, 2021) conducted among a representative sample of the Dutch public. Respondents were asked to indicate on a scale of 1 (absolutely no trust) to 10 (complete trust) how much trust they have in a number of institutions. 

Of all the institutions examined, science scores highest for trust: a 7.4 in 2021. Courts of law comes in second with a 6.9. Newspapers and trade unions score a 6.1. Politics gets a 6, television a 5.9 and large companies score the lowest with 5.5.

The high trust in science is not only apparent from the graph above. When we ask about the associations people have with science, they are almost all positive or neutral. Scientific sources of information about climate change and vaccination are also highly trusted: science is at the top here with regard to climate change and almost at the top of (corona) vaccination. Regarding vaccination only doctors working in hospitals get a little more trust than scientists.

Trust increased between 2018 and 2021

The average trust in science has increased from 7.07 in 2018 to 7.42 in 2021. Not only did trust in science increase, trust in the other institutions also increased. This increase is probably related to the corona crisis. 40% of the Dutch also think that their trust in science has changed due to the corona virus. Nearly a quarter (24%) say their trust in science has increased. The main reason they mention for this is the rapid development of the corona vaccines. On the other hand, 16% of the participants say that his or her trust has decreased. This group also often refers to the speed with which the vaccines have been developed. They worry about its reliability and struggle with conflicting information or ambiguity. More than half of the Dutch (56%) indicate that their confidence has remained the same, the main reasons being that they already had confidence and that scientists 'just' do their job.

We also see that confidence has increased in other surveys. The figure below shows the percentage of Dutch people who give a 6 or higher for their confidence in science, since 2007. It also shows that confidence in science has increased between 2018 and 2020/2021. The figure also shows that confidence in science science has remained fairly stable between 2007 and 2018. The percentage that gave a 6 or higher varied between 82% and 87% and increased to 90% in 2020. Since 2020, the trust in science has steadily declined, reaching 86% in 2022. 

Who have trust?

The research shows that trust in science is related to the level of education. The higher educated have more trust than the lower educated. Men and women have similar confidence, and there is hardly any difference between young and old. People who come into contact with science more often, for example by reading about it, have more confidence in science. And people with more knowledge of science also have more trust in science.

Trust in science is also related to political preference. For example, the people who voted GroenLinks gave science an average of 8.4, while PVV voters gave an average of 6.5. This connection with party preference was also there with trust in other institutions. A low score on trust in science therefore has to do with people's general trust in institutions, and not just in science.

Trust is comparable to reference countries in 2020

Trust in science has also increased in many other countries in 2020 compared to 2018. International research conducted in 2018 shows that there was a relatively large group in the Netherlands that has little faith in science. Repeating this research in 2020 shows that this group has become smaller. The size is now comparable to that in other countries. By the end of 2020, 90% of the Dutch have a lot or some trust in science.

The graph above shows that the percentage of people who have a lot or some confidence in science in 2020 is close for all countries: the percentage varies between 86% and 97%. Some of the differences between the countries can possibly be explained by cultural differences, which means that people answer questions differently. What is also striking is that confidence in China has risen sharply. In 2018, China had the least confidence in science and in 2020 the country will be in third place. In 2020, the Netherlands will score fairly average for trust in science.

LISS (Longitudinal Internet Studies for the Social sciences) panel. 

Tiemeijer, Will & De Jonge, Jos; Hoeveel vertrouwen hebben Nederlanders in wetenschap? WRR/Rathenau Instituut The Hague 2013. (in Dutch)

Rathenau Instituut. Trust in science 2015,  Facts and figures 15. The Hague 2015.

Rathenau Instituut. Trust in science in the Netherlands 2018. The Hague 2018.

Rathenau Instituut. Vertrouwen van Nederlanders in wetenschap (enquête 2021). The Hague 2021. (in Dutch)

Wellcome Global Monitor 2018 en 2020