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Revenge of the Experts: Will COVID-19 Renew or Diminish Public Trust in Science?


  • Aksoy, Cevat
  • Eichengreen, Barry
  • Saka, Orkun


It is sometimes said that an effect of the COVID-19 pandemic will be heightened appreciation of the importance of scientific research and expertise. We test this hypothesis by examining how exposure to previous epidemics affected trust in science and scientists. Building on the "impressionable years hypothesis" that attitudes are durably formed during the ages 18 to 25, we focus on individuals exposed to epidemics in their country of residence at this particular stage of the life course. Combining data from a 2018 Wellcome Trust survey of more than 75,000 individuals in 138 countries with data on global epidemics since 1970, we show that such exposure has no impact on views of science as an endeavor but that it significantly reduces trust in scientists and in the benefits of their work. We also illustrate that the decline in trust is driven by the individuals with little previous training in science subjects. Finally, our evidence suggests that epidemic-induced distrust translates into lower compliance with health-related policies in the form of negative views towards vaccines and lower rates of child vaccination.

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  • Aksoy, Cevat & Eichengreen, Barry & Saka, Orkun, 2020. "Revenge of the Experts: Will COVID-19 Renew or Diminish Public Trust in Science?," CEPR Discussion Papers 15447, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:15447

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    1. Maqsood Aslam & Etienne Farvaque & Franck Malan, 2021. "A disaster always rings twice: Early life experiences and central bankers' reactions to natural disasters," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 74(3), pages 301-320, August.
    2. Abel Brodeur & Idaliya Grigoryeva & Lamis Kattan, 2021. "Stay-at-home orders, social distancing, and trust," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 34(4), pages 1321-1354, October.
    3. Aksoy Cevat Giray & Antonio Cabrales & Mathias Dolls & Windsteiger Lisa, 2020. "COVID-19, Trust and Solidarity in the EU," EconPol Policy Reports 27, ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich.
    4. Barry Eichengreen, 2020. "Individualism, Polarization and Recovery from the COVID-19 Crisis," Intereconomics: Review of European Economic Policy, Springer;ZBW - Leibniz Information Centre for Economics;Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), vol. 55(6), pages 371-374, November.
    5. Angelo Antoci & Valentina Rotondi & Fabio Sabatini & Pier Luigi Sacco & Mauro Sodini, 2021. "Experts vs. policymakers in the COVID-19 policy response," Working Papers in Public Economics 213, University of Rome La Sapienza, Department of Economics and Law.
    6. Gianmarco Daniele & Andrea F.M. Martinangeli & Francesco Passarelli & Willem Sas & Lisa Windsteiger, 2020. "When Distrust Goes Viral: Causal Effects of Covid-19 on European Political Attitudes," CESifo Working Paper Series 8804, CESifo.
    7. Silvia Angerer & Daniela Glätzle-Rützler & Philipp Lergetporer & Thomas Rittmannsberger, 2022. "How does the vaccine approval procedure affect COVID-19 vaccination intentions?," Munich Papers in Political Economy 20, TUM School of Governance at the Technical University of Munich.
    8. Raphael Corbi & Chiara Falco, 2022. "Natural Disasters and Preferences for the Environment: Evidence from the Impressionable Years," Working Papers, Department of Economics 2022_07, University of São Paulo (FEA-USP).
    9. Gianmarco Daniele & Andrea F.M. Martinangeli & Francesco Passarelli & Willem Sas & Lisa Windsteiger, 2020. "When Economic and Health Crises Collide: The Effect of Covid-19 on Political Attitudes," Working Papers tax-mpg-rps-2020-18_2, Max Planck Institute for Tax Law and Public Finance.
    10. Marcella Alsan & Sarah Eichmeyer, 2021. "Experimental Evidence on the Effectiveness of Non-Experts for Improving Vaccine Demand," NBER Working Papers 28593, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Aslam, Maqsood & Farvaque, Etienne, 2022. "Once bitten, twice bold? Early life tragedy and central bankers’ reaction to COVID-19," Finance Research Letters, Elsevier, vol. 44(C).
    12. Silvia Angerer & Daniela Glätzle-Rützler & Philipp Lergetporer & Thomas Rittmannsberger, 2022. "How Does the Vaccine Approval Procedure Affect Covid-19 Vaccination Intentions?," CESifo Working Paper Series 9648, CESifo.
    13. David E. Bloom & Michael Kuhn & Klaus Prettner, 2022. "Modern Infectious Diseases: Macroeconomic Impacts and Policy Responses," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 60(1), pages 85-131, March.
    14. Thomas G. Safford & Emily H. Whitmore & Lawrence C. Hamilton, 2021. "Scientists, presidents, and pandemics—comparing the science–politics nexus during the Zika virus and COVID‐19 outbreaks," Social Science Quarterly, Southwestern Social Science Association, vol. 102(6), pages 2482-2498, November.
    15. Yeoh, Siew-Boey & Hooy, Chee-Wooi, 2022. "Generation effects and managerial risk taking," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 139(C), pages 918-934.
    16. Klaus Gründler & Armin Hackenberger & Anina Harter & Niklas Potrafke, 2021. "Covid-19 Vaccination: The Role of Crisis Experience," CESifo Working Paper Series 9096, CESifo.
    17. Anda Rožukalne & Vineta Kleinberga & Alise Tīfentāle & Ieva Strode, 2022. "What Is the Flag We Rally Around? Trust in Information Sources at the Outset of the COVID-19 Pandemic in Latvia," Social Sciences, MDPI, vol. 11(3), pages 1-18, March.
    18. Per G. Fredriksson & Aatishya Mohanty, 2022. "COVID-19 Regulations, Political Institutions, and the Environment," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 81(2), pages 323-353, February.
    19. Silvia Angerer & Daniela Glätzle-Rützler & Philipp Lergetporer & Thomas Rittmannsberger, 2022. "How does the vaccine approval procedure affect COVID-19 vaccination intentions?," Working Papers 2022-04, Faculty of Economics and Statistics, University of Innsbruck.
    20. Chiara Falco & Raphael Corbi, 2022. "Natural Disasters and Preferences for the Environment: Evidence from the Impressionable Years," Center for Economic Research (RECent) 154, University of Modena and Reggio E., Dept. of Economics "Marco Biagi".

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    JEL classification:

    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • F50 - International Economics - - International Relations, National Security, and International Political Economy - - - General
    • I19 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Other

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