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The Most Important Health-Care Tool Is Trust

A new survey offers unprecedented data on public attitudes toward science and health. As the world faces profound science-related challenges – from climate change to antimicrobial resistance – policymakers, practitioners, and civic leaders would do well to learn as much as possible from it.

LONDON – Doctors and nurses have traditionally been among the most trusted people in society. According to the Wellcome Global Monitor, the largest-ever survey of public attitudes toward science and health, that remains true: more than 70% of survey participants reported that they trust scientists, doctors, and nurses. But their responses also indicate that there is no room for complacency.

Half of the 149,000 respondents, representing over 140 countries, reported that they know little or nothing about science, and almost one in five don’t think that it benefits them personally. This lack of engagement with science raises serious – even life-threatening – risks.

Consider attitudes toward vaccines. Globally, the vast majority of people recognize that vaccines are safe, effective, and important. But in some wealthy countries, the share of people who trust vaccines is plummeting. In France, for example, 33% of people do not believe that vaccines are safe and effective.

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