By Chris Adams

Scientists consider the planet to be warming and vaccines to be totally unconnected to autism.

So why do many Americans not agree?

In a session on trust in science, Cary Funk of the Pew Research Center detailed those attitudes and how they have changed over time. Funk, director of science and society research at Pew, reviewed research on trust in science generally, and vaccines specifically.

Overall, the public’s trust in science has held steady over time – particularly compared with other institutions, such as the government or the press. Trust in the military, by contrast, remains high. Asked if they had a “great deal” of trust in various institutions, military was tops at 39%, followed by scientists at 27%. The news media was at 8%, and elected officials at 3%, according to Pew research.

“We are living in an era of low trust in institutions,” she said.

But while the overall trust in science was relatively strong – and holding steady – in some specific issues, the picture is murkier.

One survey asked respondents for views on three different issues: the health benefits and risks of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, the causes of climate change, and the risks and benefits of eating genetically modified foods. On vaccine risks, 47% thought scientists understood them “very well”; on climate science, only 28% thought scientists knew it very well; and on genetically modified foods it was 19%.

Some additional questions on vaccines sought information on the MMR vaccine. Overall, 88% said the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks; the vaccine has been targeted by vocal, well-organized groups over concerns it causes autism. Asked about risks, 11% of respondents said they were high, 21% said medium and 66% said low.

As for the policy of requiring that children be vaccinated before going to school, 82% agreed while 17% disagree. (They were asked, “Parents should be able to decide not to vaccinate their children even if that may create health risks for others” or “Healthy children should be required to be vaccinated to attend school because of potential risks to others.”)