Trend Magazine

Science Matters

Notes from the president

In this Issue:

  • Winter 2021
  • Science Matters
  • Crunch: Science Held in High Esteem
  • Foreword: Acknowledging Our Limits
  • Rebuild Trust in Science
  • Data & Better Decisions
  • Science in a Crisis
  • Efficiencies in Science
  • Science, Policy, and Practice
  • Science & Religion
  • Voices: Pandemic’s Impact on Science
  • Five Questions: Dr. Anthony Fauci
  • Scientists & Communications
  • View All Other Issues
Science Matters

COVID-19 has led to challenges the world has not confronted in more than a century: over 55 million cases and more than 1.3 million deaths; massive disruption to economies; state and local budgets in the U.S. at the breaking point; and lack of contact with loved ones, teachers, colleagues, and friends. And the pandemic has brought greater attention to the role of science in society. Vaccine development, therapeutics, and epidemiology are new topics of conversation in the public square. So in this issue of Trend we step back to explore public attitudes about science and how science can inform policy. 

In the months leading up to the pandemic, the Pew Research Center measured the level of trust in science and scientists. The data revealed that large majorities around the globe support government investment in science. But when asked if they trust scientists to do what is right for the public, only 38% of Americans answered “a lot.” So raising public confidence in science is a critical challenge.

Sudip Parikh, who leads the American Association for the Advancement of Science, writes that “a scientific endeavor that is not trusted by the public cannot adequately contribute to society.” Parikh believes that the science community has work to do if it wants to increase trust among the American people. But he also believes that public skepticism about science can be reduced when scientists build strong relationships with the communities they serve—and offers strategies to do just that. 

While the pandemic is disrupting the globe, Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, says that the research community can respond in a meaningful way with a three-part framework learned from other calamities such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill: actionable science given to decision-makers in the earliest days of a crisis; strategic science involving interdisciplinary teams working together to avoid a cascading series of disasters; and irreplaceable science that takes advantage of the unusual conditions existing during a crisis: for example, studying the effects of less human activity on marine life during the pandemic.

Effective COVID-19 vaccines and other measures are already addressing the pandemic’s effects on public health and will eventually allow an economic recovery. But even when we put our masks away, science will continue to inform policy responses. Molly Irwin, who directs science and research at The Pew Charitable Trusts, writes that the federal government is building an infrastructure for collecting data needed to craft effective public policy. She notes that data-driven policymaking has evolved over decades and with each new challenge produces a body of evidence “that is adjusted, expanded, or reconsidered in subsequent versions” as scientists learn more about the problem they’re trying to address.

Solving difficult challenges based on a foundation of rigorous science and public trust is the goal of all the authors in this issue of Trend. I hope their insights will help inform yours.

Susan K. Urahn, President and CEO

Spotlight on Mental Health

Conversations on Science
Conversations on Science

Conversations on Science

Quick View

In a new season of Pew’s “After the Fact” podcast, we talk about science—what it is, how it’s conducted and explained to the public, and how it affects our lives.

Why We Must Rebuild Trust in Science
Composite image of modern city network communication concept

Learn the Basics of Broadband from Our Limited Series

Sign up for our four-week email course on Broadband Basics

Quick View

How does broadband internet reach our homes, phones, and tablets? What kind of infrastructure connects us all together? What are the major barriers to broadband access for American communities?

What Is Antibiotic Resistance—and How Can We Fight It?

Sign up for our four-week email series The Race Against Resistance.

Quick View

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” are a major threat to modern medicine. But how does resistance work, and what can we do to slow the spread? Read personal stories, expert accounts, and more for the answers to those questions in our four-week email series: Slowing Superbugs.

Explore Pew’s new and improved
Fiscal 50 interactive

Your state's stats are more accessible than ever with our new and improved Fiscal 50 interactive:

  • Maps, trends, and customizable charts
  • 50-state rankings
  • Analysis of what it all means
  • Shareable graphics and downloadable data
  • Proven fiscal policy strategies

Explore

Welcome to the new Fiscal 50

Key changes include:

  • State pages that help you keep track of trends in your home state and provide national and regional context.
  • Interactive indicator pages with highly customizable and shareable data visualizations.
  • A Budget Threads feature that offers Pew’s read on the latest state fiscal news.

Learn more about the new and improved Fiscal 50.