Alarmed by Ebola, public isn't calmed by what "experts say"

Even defenders of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the agency has hurt the case for trusting scientists, by making overly broad assurances early on, or changing guidelines on handling the disease, indicating that the earlier ones were not strict enough.

This comes on top of a broader mistrust of elites. “Skepticism about science and expertise and authority has a pretty big constituency out there,” said Ross K. Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University. It is not enough for policy makers to be right on the science, he said; they must also find a way to reassure “people who are all too ready to interpret expert opinion as elitist and condescending.”

That sort of view runs across the political spectrum, he said, on issues like the safety of vaccinations, prescription drugs or fluoridated water, and studies have shown that attempts to correct misinformation often end up reinforcing it, instead. But in recent years, that mistrust has been most visible on the right, where many people dismiss scientific consensus on global warming and evolution.