No Confidence

March 29, 2023

If your work environment is like mine, there is a fair amount of chit-chat at break time. News reporters are, by nature, a gossipy bunch, so the water cooler here at the Planetary Broadcast Network’s headquarters is a great place to catch up on the events of the day, on every level from international politics to the fast-paced coupling and decoupling of our interns. Sometimes that last category becomes a bit spicier than I’d care to know about, but if you just stay quiet and observe, you can take a quick little core sample of the zeitgeist.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve noted that many of my colleagues are showing a lot of distrust. Not the kind of healthy distrust that keeps one from buying a microgravity timeshare in low-earth orbit or a second-hand massage robot, but a more world-weary sort of distrust that borders on paranoia. When talking about geopolitical issues, that attitude is probably not too far from the truth, but I am beginning to see it more often now even when the conversation turns to science. 

I did a little research and discovered that my office colleagues are not alone. A Pew poll published in early 2022 demonstrated that public trust in science (including medical science) is waning. There is the sense that every scientific researcher is a shill, and so-called “breakthroughs” are merely press releases that serve the ends of whichever corporate overlord funds their lab. 

Is this true? That’s difficult to say, but certainly many believe so. The Pew poll asked Americans if they were confident that scientists act in the public’s best interest, and the results were down a full 10 percent from the previous year. Only 29% of respondents say they have such confidence in scientists, while 22% said they had little or no confidence. Even more alarming is the partisan nature of the findings; there is a full thirty-point difference between Democrats (43%) and Republicans (13%) who say they have “a great deal of confidence” in scientists. 

For what it’s worth, it’s not just scientists that we don’t trust anymore. The same study showed that confidence in police officers, public school officials, religious leaders, elected officials, and the military have all gone down. In short, we are losing faith in many of our institutions.

In our next installment, we’ll look at this situation in greater detail, and try to give you the tools you need to sort the wheat from the chaff—unless, of course, you don’t trust journalists either…

In the interest of my journalistic integrity, I feel compelled to add that the same report showed that those who had little or no confidence in journalists grew from 54% to 60%. My fellow editors aren’t helping—I’ve certainly complained about the misunderstood or purposely misleading science reporting that exists only to drive circulation. It’s a common tactic; whenever you need a spike in readership, just post another alarmist headline about an asteroid that might come close to the Earth, and you’ll get all the eyeballs you need.

Nevertheless, I am contractually obligated to urge you to stay tuned to the Planetary Broadcast Network, where we bring you the news you need to be an informed citizen of our great democracy.