A new global survey – Wellcome Global Monitor found an overall 72% of people around the World trust scientists and 73% would believe a medical professional more than other sources of health advice including friends, families, religious leaders or famous people. 

Published this June, the poll was conducted by Gallup World Poll on behalf of London based biomedical charity, the Wellcome Trust. It involved more than 140,000 individuals from over 140 countries to find out their thoughts and feelings towards science and major health challenges. This also claims to be one of the very first surveys which take into consideration gender and nationality differences. 

Interestingly, whilst the public do somewhat have faith in science and health, their trust in vaccines tell a rather different story. Of all, Europe (especially France) showed some of the lowest level of perceive safety in vaccine. Only about half of Eastern European and 59% of Western European strongly or somewhat agree “vaccines are safe”. 

In some places, a more substantial amount of scientific knowledge is associated with less confidence in vaccines, indicating education may not be an effective way to counter skepticism. This has made us wonder: if vaccines, something so well-researched and administered globally, is subjected to so much questioning, what about artificial intelligence (AI)? 

Why won’t people believe? 

Perhaps because of the existence of misinformation. Some of these pseudo-science or health tips are so well-embedded in our thinking, it’s mostly hard to differentiate whether they are genuine or just another marketing strategy. 

For example, most step-trackers or wearables set 10,000 as the golden standard of steps which one has to walk, in order to stay healthy, every day. Nevertheless, not many realized the magic number was a marketing campaign took place shortly before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics Games, to sell a pedometer called “Manpo-kei”, which literally means 10,000 steps in Japanese. Conversely, a research team from Harvard Medical School found that an average of 5500 steps, is enough for women in their 70s to reduce all-cause mortality.  

Other times, misinformation disguised itself so well it just looks real if one neglects to fact-check. For example, this article cited four peer-reviewed journal papers to support “magnesium treats ADHD better and safer than ADHD drugs”. However, none of the four sources make the conclusion and three of which were not ADHD related. 

The system is not perfect 

Of course, the present science and healthcare systems are not perfect. There is a general lack of support to work towards “what is right”. We know that bad or inadequate data will not allow medical professionals and data scientists to build trust-worthy and safe AI or machine learning algorithm, yet there is no better way to get access to more databases. 

At the same time, there is still not enough transparency between researchers, journal editors, and even companies. We are unsure if there has ever been a conflict of interest; whether researchers are pushing out innovations because they are indisputably ready or because they find incentives in endorsing the innovation. 

Overall, there is still a lot to work on. It will be interesting for a follow-up study to find out what encourage people to trust in science and vaccines and if their literacy in science and health information. 

Author Bio
synthetic gene empathy chinese artificial intelligence data medicine healthcare ai

Hazel Tang

A science writer with data background and an interest in the current affair, culture, and arts; a no-med from an (almost) all-med family. Follow on Twitter.