Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

A survey of over 2000 British adults has found that public trust in science, particularly genetics, increased significantly during the pandemic. However, those with extremely negative attitudes towards science tend to have high self-belief in their own understanding despite low textbook knowledge.

DNA gene helix spiral

The COVID-19 pandemic saw the public profile of science increase to an unprecedented level. This was particularly true for genetics, thanks to the prominence of PCR testing and the development of COVID-19 vaccines. But did this extraordinary level of coverage lead to any long-term changes in how people feel about science and genetics?

In a study funded by the Genetics Society, researchers from the Universities of Aberdeen, Bath, Cambridge, Oxford, and UCL commissioned a survey of over 2000 randomly selected British adults through the public polling company Kantar Public. The results have been published this week as a report ‘COVID-19 and the Public Perception of Genetics.’

Key findings:

  • As a baseline, most people were trusting of genetic technologies before the pandemic. Nearly half (45%) reported they trusted these to work for the societal good. 37% were neutral on this question, while 18% said they did not, and only very few (1-2%) were strongly distrusting.
  • More than a third of the respondents said that their trust in science increased during the pandemic.
  • In particular, attitudes to genetics have become more positive. When asked if their trust in genetics had gone up during the pandemic, four times more people said their trust had increased than those who reported that it had gone down.
  • As a control, the same increase in trust was not seen for sciences that were not involved in the pandemic (for instance geology).
  • Nearly half (44%) of the UK public would like to hear more about science in the media. In contrast, less than 10% thought that there is too much coverage of the science in the media.

Despite the positive news, Professor Alison Woollard (Department of Biochemistry, University of Oxford), a co-author on the study, warned that scientists should not be complacent. ‘We think we have established the limits of science communication. Despite all the talk of PCR over the last many months, we found that 30% hadn’t heard the term or knew it was a tool for testing for the virus. It is hard to see how any science can have more exposure than PCR has had. We need to be realistic and understand that, no matter what, we will never reach everyone. For informing people about things like vaccines this is important to know.’

Read the full story on the University of Oxford website. 

Similar stories

Any type of hormonal contraceptive may increase risk of breast cancer

An analysis of data by researchers at the Nuffield Department of Population Health’s Cancer Epidemiology Unit has shown that use of progestogen-only hormonal contraceptives is associated with a 20-30% higher risk of breast cancer. The results are published in PLOS Medicine.

Viewing self-harm images on the internet and in social media usually causes harm, according to new review

Clinical researchers have reviewed the international research evidence regarding the impact of viewing images of self-harm on the internet and in social media.

Can humans hibernate?

Illuminating new TEDx Talk from Professor of Sleep Physiology Vladyslav Vyazovskiy

Athena Swan Gold Award success for Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences

The award reflects the Department’s commitment to representation, progression and success for all. It acknowledges the innovative policies and practices developed across the department and the detailed action plans for improvement.

RECOVERY trial team awarded MRC Impact Prize for Outstanding Team Impact

The Medical Research Council Prize Committee has awarded the RECOVERY trial team the MRC Impact Prize 2022 for Outstanding Team Impact.

Professor Sir Chris Whitty brings greater understanding of epidemics to Oxford

Chief Medical Officer of England Professor Sir Chris Whitty KCB FMedSci delivers the Sherrington Prize Lecture: Public Understanding of Science to an audience of Oxford staff and students.