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Journal Articles Public Health Year : 2021

Public perceptions of scientific advice: toward a science savvy public culture?


Objectives: Both the political appetite for a science-based coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) policy and its acceptability to the public are little understood, at a time of sharp distrust not only of governments but also of scientists and their journals' review practices. We studied the case of France, where the independent Scientific Council on COVID-19 was appointed by President Macron on March 12, 2020. Study design: We conducted a survey on a representative sample of the French adult population. Methods: Our data were collected by the French Institute of Public Opinion using a self-administered online questionnaire. This was completed by a sample of 1016 people stratified to match French official census statistics for gender, age, occupation, and so on. We conducted statistical analysis using Python (Pandas-SciPy-Statsmodels) with Chi-squared and Wilcoxon rank-sum tests to control for statistical significance. Results: Intense media coverage has given the council a very high public profile, with three respondents out of four (73%) having heard about it. Perceptions are positive but complex. French citizens expect science to be important in political decision-making. Four of five (81.5%) want political decisions, in general, to be based on scientific knowledge. But one in two (55%) says that the government has not relied enough on science and only 36% are satisfied with the government's crisis management to date. Although most feel that the council has a legitimate advisory role even in situations of uncertainty (only 15% disagree), it is not perceived as fully independent. Only 44% think that it directly represents the scientific community, and only one of three people considers it completely independent from the government (39%) and the pharmaceutical industry (36%). Conclusions: Our study confirms that while the transparency of scientific advice is important, it alone cannot ensure public confidence in political decision-making. We suggest that efforts made today to instill a 'science-savvy' public culture-one that allows the complex articulation between scientific knowledge, uncertainty, and political decision-making to be understood and accounted for would greatly benefit evidence-based policy in future crises.
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hal-03334383 , version 1 (24-04-2023)


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É. Schultz, J.K. Ward. Public perceptions of scientific advice: toward a science savvy public culture?. Public Health, 2021, 194, pp.86-88. ⟨10.1016/j.puhe.2021.02.007⟩. ⟨hal-03334383⟩
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