We also asked how well scientists who study pandemics understand the spread of coronavirus: among five possible responses, almost half selected the choice at the “very well” end of the spectrum. Only eight percent selected “not at all.” The public generally believes in the expertise of scientists, so why is there any opposition to scientists’ involvement in policymaking about COVID-19?
The answer is values. We also asked respondents how much they agree with the following statement: “If scientists who study pandemics have to make life and death decisions during the pandemic, the values they use will be consistent with mine.” While few strongly disagreed with this statement, the responses were much more divided than the questions about scientists’ understanding. Importantly, the most commonly selected answer was the ambivalent “neither agree nor disagree.” Many Americans believe scientists’ claims about nature, but they believe that these claims come with a set of values that may not align with their own and thus may be concerned that these make their way into scientific recommendations.
Part of the challenge for scientists like Fauci is that the view that scientists are using values not shared by the public is more likely to be held by Trump’s base—that is, Republicans; those who live in nonmetropolitan areas; those with less formal education; men; and lower income men in particular. These are also the groups that tend to support the values of “the people” over those of “the elites”—which includes scientists.