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


  • Barry Eichengreen ⓡ
  • Cevat Giray Aksoy ⓡ
  • Orkun Saka


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Barry Eichengreen ⓡ & Cevat Giray Aksoy ⓡ & Orkun Saka, 2020. "Revenge of the Experts: Will Covid-19 Renew or Diminish Public Trust in Science?," NBER Working Papers 28112, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:28112
    Note: HC PE

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Brodeur, Abel & Grigoryeva, Idaliya & Kattan, Lamis, 2020. "Stay-At-Home Orders, Social Distancing and Trust," IZA Discussion Papers 13234, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. David E. Bloom & Michael Kuhn & Klaus Prettner, 2020. "Modern Infectious Diseases: Macroeconomic Impacts and Policy Responses," NBER Working Papers 27757, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Klaus Gründler & Armin Hackenberger & Anina Harter & Niklas Potrafke, 2021. "Covid-19 Vaccination: The Role of Crisis Experience," CESifo Working Paper Series 9096, CESifo.

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