Many Europeans think pandemic researchers ‘motivated by money’

Clear majority of survey respondents from Poland and Italy believe ‘making a lot of money’ was an incentive for scientists working on Covid-19

June 15, 2022
Source: iStock

About half of Europeans think researchers who helped to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic were motivated by “making a lot of money”, according to a survey covering six countries.

The poll of more than 12,000 people in Germany, Italy, Ireland, Norway, Poland and the UK found that 52 per cent thought scientists were either “very strongly” or “quite strongly” motivated by material gain. In Poland, two-thirds of respondents agreed that academics were driven by avarice.

On average, an even higher proportion – 65 per cent – believed that scientists were motivated by “building or protecting their own reputation”, a share that rose to three-quarters of respondents in Italy.

However, on average across the six countries, most respondents trusted scientists to provide accurate information, with those working at universities trusted slightly more than those working with governments or companies.

Scientists were generally viewed more favourably than governments in their motivations for working to end the pandemic. They did better than respective governments on perceived knowledge, openness to new ideas, honesty and competence in dealing with the pandemic.

One of the researchers on the study, Bobby Duffy, professor of public policy at King’s College London and director of its Policy Institute, said the public perception of scientists being motivated by money was “interesting”, but pointed out that general trust in scientists was higher than in other social institutions.

He said the desire to make a lot of money might not be associated with greed among some respondents. “People may be answering it from different perspectives, [like] the sense of everyone having to make money,” he said.

The online study, commissioned by the European Union-funded Peritia research project, ran in January 2022, and samples were weighted to match national populations for age, gender, region, education and income.

Previous international public opinion surveys on the pandemic found that trust in science soared. A global survey by the Wellcome Trust found that the proportion of those who said they trusted science and scientists “a lot” – 41 per cent and 43 per cent, respectively – rose by 9 percentage points since 2018, almost matching the level of doctors and nurses.

However, some have since criticised universities for failing to make the most of the opportunity that the pandemic presented for science advocacy.

A fifth of the just over 6,000 respondents who took part in a global poll by the World 100 Reputation Network said universities had been “unimportant” in the fight against Covid, while 25 per cent had no sense either way of how higher education institutions had helped.

These findings did not vary much between countries, although those in Canada, the Netherlands and the UK were marginally more appreciative of universities’ efforts, with US respondents the least likely to be impressed.

ben.upton@timeshighereducation.com

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