A mean and aggressive research working culture threatens the public’s respect for scientists and their expertise, says Gail Cardew.
Earlier this month, a survey from Wellcome in London confirmed that unkindness, and worse, is pervasive in science (see go.nature.com/2sanh3i). Academic leaders expressed alarm — both for the health of young researchers and for how such pressure could erode the quality of science. I think there is more to worry about.
Treating collaborators and more junior staff with empathy and respect isn’t only an important contribution to an institution’s research culture it may impact on how the general public regard research.
The need for trust and respect is particularly acute now, when people, as the British politician Michael Gove infamously put it, “have had enough of experts”. Similar arguments have come from around the world.
According to a 2019 report by public-opinion research firm Ipsos Mori, the way people behave, especially their ability to think of others’ interests, influences their trustworthiness. Competence is not enough (go.nature.com/37lydga). This is backed up by a survey of people living on potentially contaminated land, which found that citizens who said they did not trust the science were not questioning scientists’ expertise, but whether scientists shared the public’s interest (go.nature.com/2giuvyb).