Trust in Science and COVID-19

Polarization of the coronavirus response and surging misinformation threaten our capacity to control disease transmission.

“As states and communities press forward into reopening, the trajectory of the U.S. pandemic from this point forward will depend largely on the public’s willingness to invest in public health measures—such as continued social distancing, testing, and contact tracing,” write Colleen Barry and Beth McGinty of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Hahrie Han of the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins.

They warn, however, that polarization and surging misinformation might threaten the U.S. capacity to control the spread of the disease. They continue:

To mobilize support for an effective pandemic response, we must correctly understand the sources of people’s skepticism. New findings from the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Civic Life and Public Health national opinion survey, a partnership of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the SNF Agora Institute of Johns Hopkins University, reveal a key factor that cuts across partisanship to distinguish skeptics and creates fertile ground for misinformation: distrust in science.

Our findings come from an examination of early doubters of social distancing, and what they reveal about weakness in our ability to garner sustained support for public health measures. Between April 7–13, a period that will likely be remembered as the high point of public acceptability of social distancing, we fielded the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Civic Life and Public Health national opinion survey with 1,468 U.S. adults. Like other polls, we found that the large majority (76%) of U.S. adults supported social distancing to control coronavirus transmission. We were curious about the roughly one-quarter of U.S. adults who, even in early April, questioned social distancing.

Read more on the COVID-19: School of Public Health Experts Insights website.