Most Americans have positive overall views of medical research scientists, but their views are more mixed when it comes to trust in them to do a good job, show concern for the public’s interest and provide fair and accurate information, according to a new Pew Research Center report. There is widespread skepticism among the public when it comes to issues of scientific integrity.
Trust and mistrust
About one-third or more U.S. adults say medical researchers do a good job conducting research (43%), care about the public’s best interests (35%) and provide fair and accurate information (32%) all or most of the time.
But few Americans believe medical researchers are usually open about potential conflicts of interest with industry groups (15%) or take responsibility for mistakes (13%).
About half (48%) think research misconduct is at least a moderately big problem; only 13% believe medical researchers face serious consequences for misconduct all or most of the time.
Other notable findings
- People who are more familiar with medical researchers and those with higher levels of factual science knowledge are more trusting of medical researchers. For example, those who report knowing a lot about the work of medical researchers are more likely than those who know nothing to say medical scientists usually do a good job conducting research (61% vs. 24%).
- Adults ages 50 and older tend to have more positive and trusting views of medical researchers than do those 18 to 49. For instance, about two-thirds (65%) of adults 50 and older say that medical doctors care about the best interests of their patients all or most of the time, compared with about half (49%) of those under age 50.
- Black (59%) and Hispanic (60%) adults are more likely than whites (42%) to consider research misconduct among medical scientists to be at least a moderately big problem.
- Americans are less likely to have trusting views of medical researchers than of medical doctors. For example, 57% of Americans say doctors care about the best interests of their patients all or most of the time, compared with 35% for medical research scientists.
About the survey
The nationally representative survey from Pew Research Center was conducted among U.S. adults ages 18 and older. About half of the survey respondents (N=2,226) were asked about medical research scientists; these responses have a margin of sampling error of +/- 2.7 percentage points. Before answering questions about this group, respondents were given the following brief description: “Medical research scientists conduct research to investigate human diseases and test methods to prevent and treat them.”