In a major report released this week, scientific researchers from around the globe acknowledged critical needs in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, and revealed concerns over how misinformation and the politicization of scientific research is challenging for the research community.

Sponsored by leading publisher STM publisher Elsevier, the Confidence in Research report comes as part of a broader program started in 2021 to ascertain the impact of the pandemic on the research community, and to find a way forward. The survey data was presented this week at the Falling Walls Science Summit in Berlin, Germany. The report synthesizes findings drawn from the program’s activities, including a literature review, a series of roundtables, expert interviews, and most importantly an ambitious global survey of 3,144 researchers, conducted jointly with Economist Impact), which delivered some notable results.

The good news: researchers were generally optimistic that increased public attention on research would lead to better quality research and better research practices, with some 57% saying "the experience of the pandemic has made them more inclined to ensure their work is peer reviewed" and 48% saying "they are more likely to communicate uncertainties and caveats." But the politicization and misinformation of research that came with the global crisis is also having a worrying impact.

"The findings reveal the extent and nature of the impact of the pandemic on the research community: the prevalence of misinformation, which underscores the importance of peer review and transparent study design as markers of confidence; the shocking online abuse targeted at researchers and the disheartening widened inequalities in access to funding and resources for early career researchers, women, and researchers in the Global South," writes Elsevier CEO Kumsal Bayazit, in the report's foreword. "Notably, researchers are concerned by the tension between awareness and understanding. Public attention on research has increased, bringing greater recognition and appreciation of research, but public understanding of how research is conducted has not risen in parallel. The findings show a clear call to equip researchers with the skills they need to communicate research with more clarity and confidence has come through in this study loud and clear."

Among some of the key findings for U.S. researchers:

  • 79% of U.S. researchers surveyed are worried about the politicization of research.
  • Fully two thirds (66%) of U.S. researchers surveyed agree that the pandemic increased public attention on research, but nearly half (47%) do not think that the public’s understanding of the research process has improved.
  • More 25% of U.S. researchers surveyed now view publicly countering false or misleading information as an important element of their role in society.
  • Some 44% of U.S. researchers surveyed have personally experienced or know a close colleague who has experienced some form of abuse or acrimonious interaction online—more than respondents from the UK, Netherlands, Germany, Japan, and China.
  • Half of U.S. researchers surveyed say have a lot of confidence in explaining research methods publicly, but only 13% state have high confidence communicating their research findings via social media.
  • 57% of U.S. researchers says they would like communications training.
  • 39% of U.S. researchers surveyed are concerned that the pandemic exacerbated inequalities around access to funding and resources.

“Over the past two years, we have all witnessed the very public debates on the latest Covid-19 research and who and what to trust and believe,” said Ann Gabriel, U.S. Confidence in Research Lead and Senior Vice President of Global Strategic Networks at Elsevier, in announcing the report. “Something very apparent in our study with Economist Impact was that in addition to their regular research activities, researchers now also work increasingly to combat false and misleading information as well as online abuse, and they want support to do so.”

The full report can be accessed here.