Posted BY: Russ White

Pew Research recently released a poll showing a significant drop in the public’s trust in science — specifically, medical science. While the “trust trend” towards science has been downward for a while, the COVID-19 pandemic surfaced the issue in ways harder to ignore and exacerbated the trend.

The results of this poll lead to two questions: Why is trust in science dropping? What can we do about it?

In a recent series of articles in Ubiquity, a publication of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM), one article points out how much more complex science has become, using mathematical science as an example. One measure of this increasing complexity is the declining number of single-author papers and the increasing number of papers written by interdisciplinary teams. According to the article, increasing complexity reduces trust in science in two ways.

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First, increasing complexity makes it harder to understand the results of science. The average person just doesn’t have the training or knowledge to parse scientific papers, and people don’t trust what they cannot understand. Increasing complexity doesn’t seem a likely culprit for the declining trust in science, however — it’s always easy to blame your audience for not understanding you. Still, it’s rarely the audience’s fault.

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