When scientific journals take sides during an election, the public’s trust in science takes a hit

Kevin Young, Bernhard Leidner and Stylianos Syropoulos:

When the scientific establishment gets involved in partisan politics, it decreases people’s trust in science, especially among conservatives, according to our recent research.

In the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election, several prestigious scientific journals took the highly unusual step of either endorsing Joe Biden or criticizing Donald Trump in their pages.

In September, the editor-in-chief of the journal Science wrote a scathing article titled “Trump lied about science,” which was followed by other strong critiques from both the New England Journal of Medicine and the cancer research journal Lancet Oncology.

Several other top publications – including Nature and Scientific American – soon followed, with overt endorsements of Biden. The statements focused on each candidate’s impact on scientific knowledge and science-based decision-making.

To evaluate whether political endorsements like these might influence people’s attitudes toward science, we ran an online survey experiment.