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fact sheet
04 January 2018

Public trust in science

The factsheet contains a brief statistical overview of the current state of affairs concerning the trust of the Dutch citizens in science.

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 gives a concise, statistics-based overview of trust in science among the Dutch public. 

Public trust in science in the Netherlands

Trust in science was measured in three surveys (2012, 2015 and 2018) 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. 

General impression
As in 2012 and 2015, our 2018 survey shows that science gets higher marks for trust than all other institutions. Science has an average score of 7.07, followed by courts of law with 6.53. The average scores for the other institutions included in the survey fall below 6.

The survey shows that science is also a trusted source of information about climate change and vaccines and that it occupies a place near or at the top of the trust ladder, as it did in 2012 and 2015. We also see that, compared with 2015, a larger percentage of people expect science to contribute to solving various problems. Finally, almost all of the associations that people have with science are positive ones, as was the case in previous years. 

Trust among differing groups: age, gender and education

As in previous years, we see that trust in science is related to educational level. High-educated individuals trust science more than low-educated ones. Men and women have the same level op trust in science. However, men and women in different age categories differ in terms of level of trust. There does not appear to be a gender difference in groups up to 50 years of age. On average, however, women above 50 give a lower score for trust in science than men in the same age category. This difference remains significant even after we correct for the existing difference in educational level between men and women of that age, or for the difference in scientific knowledge.

Are scientists regarded as competent, reliable and honest?

Trust is a word with many different meanings and aspects. We chose to analyse trust in science by asking our Dutch respondents to consider three characteristics of scientists: competence, reliability and integrity. Almost 4 out of 5 (77%-79%) Dutch persons think that scientists work carefully, are experts in their field, and can be trusted even though they do not always agree with each other. The majority of the Dutch population (66%) believe that scientists are objective and independent in their work. Almost a quarter (23%) of the Dutch think that scientists modify their research to get the answers they want. The latter finding – that almost one out of four Dutch persons (23%) think that scientists modify their research to get the answers they want – is striking. Of note is that, on average, this group gives all institutions a significantly lower mark for trust than the overall sample. They not only have less trust in science but in all institutions, evidently.

Trust in cooperation between science and government/business?

Doubts about the integrity of scientists increase as soon as they work for government or business; a proportion of the Dutch believe that scientists will modify their research to get the results that government (34%) or the business (41%) wants.

The Dutch also do not have a positive view of government and business within the context of contract research:

  • 57% think that government does not really know how to make use of research results in its policy
  • a large majority think that government and businesses will make use of research results only if those results support their own ideas
  • and about 60% believe that government and business will try to obstruct unwanted results.

On the other hand, the Dutch also believe that it is acceptable for scientists to let their choice of research topic be guided by the interests of business and government. They also think that government more often should take the outcomes of research into account in its decisions.

Which statement (A or B) comes closest to your own view?

The results are relevant for scientists, government and business. Scientists who work for government and business should be aware that a sizeable percentage of the Dutch population (34%-41%) believe that they modify their research to get the results that their client wants. Government should be aware that a large percentage of Dutch citizens believe that research paid for by government is modified in its favour. That is even more the case for research paid for by businesses.

More results can be found in the report



Photo: Bart van Overbeeke Fotografie/Hollandse Hoogte