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Trust in science increases amid COVID-19

Yahoo Finance’s Alexis Christoforous and Brian Sozzi speak with 3M Chief Science Advocate, Dr. Jayshree Seth, about how the world is viewing science and scientists, compared to before COVID-19.

Video Transcript

BRIAN SOZZI: The world is putting more faith in science. This morning, three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for their black hole discoveries. Going hand in hand with this, a new study by 3M is out this morning showing that trust in scientists is the highest it has been in three years.

Joining us now for more details is 3M Chief Science Advocate Dr. Jayshree Seth. Doctor, good to see you this morning. So walk us through this survey. How does it compare-- how do the results today compare to pre-pandemic?

JAYSHREE SETH: Thanks for having me. Yes, science is having a moment in 2020. And we did a survey before the pandemic and one during the pandemic, and we can clearly see that skepticism is down for the first time since we started tracking it. Trust in science and scientists, like you said, is up.

People are also more willing to acknowledge the role of science in their lives and the role of science for society. 54% of the people now say because of the pandemic they're more likely to advocate for science. And get this, 92% of the people say that we need to follow the scientific evidence and science in order to contain the pandemic. So certainly, science is having a moment in 2020, as revealed by the 3M State of Science Index.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: And no better time to do it, Doctor, smack in the middle of a pandemic. What else did your findings show in terms of where people-- where Americans are placing their trust? What are some of the sources that they're trusting right now?

JAYSHREE SETH: They're definitely most likely to trust science and scientists. And among the least likely is social media, and 47% say they trust company websites. So this is an interesting opportunity for scientists and corporations to step up into this role of advocacy and bolster that public trust in science, because this is a perfect moment when people are more receptive, is what we're seeing.

BRIAN SOZZI: Doctor, throughout the pandemic, the president has continued to attack science. Has these comments from the president changed how you go about your job, but also those other scientists in your community?

JAYSHREE SETH: Well, science transcends politics. Science is here to stay. It will be. It has been. And we see what the world is saying. It's 92% of the world saying we should follow the science and 90% of Americans, so the data is very representative.

So we are bolstering all our efforts towards science advocacy. Because the other themes that emerged in this survey are also very important. People still think sustainable solutions to all the problems we face are important, and science is critical to that.

People also see that we need more STEM education. They are willing to now acknowledge that we need that to solve the problems we face as a society. And we're seeing there that there are people who are still discouraged from taking science. And so we need to address that, because this is not an acceptable solution where people say that they have lack of access to quality STEM education or were discouraged because of their gender, or race, or ethnicity.

So there are issues that we need to address there. And finally, we're seeing that people want government to take lead in solving some of these problems and societal issues, but they also want corporations, NGOs, and academia, and individuals to step in. So we all have a role to play.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: And it also looks like, according to your survey, that most people want more funding for the science that they are now believing in during this pandemic.

JAYSHREE SETH: Absolutely. That recognition of the value of science and the way the whole scientific process has played out during this pandemic has really raised that awareness. So it's a great opportunity for all of us to join forces and advocate for science.

BRIAN SOZZI: Doctor, you have a remarkable story. You started at 3M as a summer intern in 1992. Briefly, how did-- how did you get to this position you are now?

JAYSHREE SETH: Well, I, as you said, started as an intern. And during that time, I got hired in as a full-time researcher, so I joined the area of diaper tapes at that time. And I had never seen a diaper, so it was interesting. But my PhD was in making diamond-like films, and I'd never seen a diamond. So I was ready to go at it.

And then I've been doing a lot of great work around sustainability, because that's a very strong piece of what we do at 3M, so lots of sustainable industrial products. And then one day I was approached when the results of the first 3M State of Science Index were being studied. Now, we absolutely need to advocate for science, because one of the stats that is very interesting is at that time 4 out of 10 said if science didn't exist our lives would be no different. 4 out of 10. And they were taking the survey on their laptops or mobile phones.

So you see the problem. Science is underappreciated. Science is invisible. Science is taken for granted. So I was absolutely shocked when I saw those results. And so I was, like, I'm all in. I want science to be out there, and we want to advocate for it.

So I took this role on, and it's just been a phenomenal role. We have done this survey now for four years. This is the fourth year, and it's very interesting to see how when science plays out on the world stage that people now really do appreciate science and acknowledge and are willing to advocate for it.