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BackgroundIn this era of global health crises, public trust in scientists is a crucial determinant of adherence to public health recommendations. Studies of trust in scientists often link sociodemographic and other factors to such adherence but rely on assumptions about scientists and neglect scientific uncertainty. We undertook a cross-sectional mixed-methods study evaluating factors associated with public trust of scientists in Europe, investigating how and why respondents embraced certain claims in scientific debates.MethodsA survey was administered to 7000 participants across seven European countries in December 2020. Data concerning sociodemographic characteristics, trust in scientists, information source preferences, COVID-19 experiences and beliefs about pandemic origins were analysed using a multiple regression model. We employed thematic analysis to interpret open-text responses about pandemic origins and likely acceptance of treatments and vaccination.ResultsTrust in scientists was associated with multiple sociodemographic characteristics, including higher age and educational levels, left/centre political affiliation and use of certain information sources. Respondents claiming that COVID-19 was deliberately released and that 5G technology worsened COVID-19 symptoms had lower levels of trust in scientists. Explaining their positions in debates about pandemic origins, respondents trusting and not trusting scientists invoked scientific results and practices, arguing that scientists were not the most important actors in these debates.ConclusionsAlthough our quantitative analyses align with prior studies, our qualitative analyses of scientists, their practices and perceived roles are more varied than prior research presumed. Further investigation of these variations is needed to strengthen scientific literacy and trust in scientists.

Original publication





BMJ Public Health



Publication Date





e000280 - e000280