Why trust in science is so important

Why trust in science is so important

It is essential that society has confidence in research. Only in this way can it realise its maximum potential and ultimately overcome social challenges such as climate change or a pandemic. But there are also critical voices: Some of the Swiss population has little or no trust in science. Four experts debated how research can gain people's trust at an «NZZ Live» panel discussion.

Monday, February 26, 2024

The coronavirus pandemic has shown just how essential science is for our society. If we are in a crisis, we are dependent on it. However, in order for us to fully benefit from the findings of researchers, it is important that people have confidence in science.


The «NZZ Live» panel discussion on 7 February addressed precisely this topic. The event entitled «Do we trust science?» was organised by NZZ and the global life sciences company Bayer. Under the direction of NZZ science editor Eveline Geiser, four experts debated the importance of transparency in research results, the role of science for society and the possibilities for strengthening trust in science.


Present were Gian Casutt, Head of Communications ETH Board, Monika Lessl, Head of Corporate R&D and Social Innovation at Bayer, Mike Schäfer, communication scientist at the University of Zurich and Simone Schürle, engineer in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at ETH Zurich. «Swiss people's trust in science is already relatively high and has even increased during the pandemic,» said Mike Schäfer. According to the Science Barometer Switzerland 2020, around two thirds of those surveyed stated that they had a strong or very strong trust in science.

At the beginning of February, four experts discussed the topic of trust in science at an «NZZ Live» panel discussion.
At the beginning of February, four experts discussed the topic of trust in science at an «NZZ Live» panel discussion.


According to experts, however, trust in science has waned again since the pandemic. This could jeopardise public investment in research and ultimately Switzerland's reputation as a successful nation of science and innovation. For Monika Lessl, the pandemic period was a prime example of how science works. «Recommendations were constantly adapted based on new findings.» The experts see science-related populism and the spread of misinformation as the reason for dwindling trust. According to the NZZ report, others question the independence of research, as it is partly funded by third parties. Still others are concerned about the consequences of gene and cell modifications.

Overall, the experts at the panel discussion agreed that science is dependent on the trust of society. Casutt said that communication must explain science and its work. For Monika Lessl, too, it is clear that trust is not simply a given, but must be won again and again. «There needs to be a constant exchange between science and society,» emphasised Lessl.


Bayer has therefore now created a publicly accessible database in which people can see which universities the company is working with and what they are currently researching. The aim is to create transparency – and ultimately trust.

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