Trust in the scientific community and conspiracy thinking in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic
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Department of Life Sciences and Public Health, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Rome, Italy
Unit of Statistics, National Institute for Public Policies Analysis (INAPP), Rome, Italy
Publication date: 2023-04-27
Popul. Med. 2023;5(Supplement):A376
Background and Objective: Trust in scientists (TiS) plays a major role in determining people’s acceptance of evidence-based health-related measures. Previous research shows that in Italy lack of TiS is associated with a higher inclination towards conspiracy beliefs (ItCB). Our aim is to analyse TiS and ItCB among Italians during the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods: The European Social Survey (ESS) is a biennial survey measuring attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours across Europe. We present a descriptive analysis of data from its 10th round, conducted in 2022, concerning Italians’ TiS and ItCB, along with their relationship with socio-cultural-demographic variables. Results: The sample is composed of 2,640 respondents, with a median age of 53 years, of which 51.7% are females. Most respondents declare having high levels of trust in scientists (69.3%). However, only 49.8% of them disagree that groups of scientists manipulate evidence to deceive the public. While 58.9% of those with high levels of trust expectedly disagree with evidence manipulation by scientists, 15.7% of them are concerned with it. Of those trusting science, 51.5% think people can usually be trusted (against 29.6% of those distrustful of science). Conversely, among those questioning scientists’ integrity, a lower proportion trust people in general (33.0%) compared to their counterparts (50.6%). Both higher trust in scientists and stronger belief in scientists’ integrity are associated with higher education (high school/university), younger age, and being female. A similar association emerges with higher interest in politics, with left-wing political placement, with better rating of health services and with living in a big city or suburbs. Conclusions: Although most Italians show high TiS and low ItCB, there is a relevant cluster of citizens with an opposite profile. The common determinants of lower TiS and higher ItCB must be better understood and addressed to ensure a higher effectiveness of public health measures during emergencies.