February 25, 2024

Nature’s foray into politics may have backfired 

In the 2020 election, a swag of high-profile science journals, including Nature, Science, The Lancet, and the New England Journal of Medicine, endorsed Joe Biden as the next President. Their decision to take a stand may have backfired.

According to an article published in Nature Human Behaviour, it did not change anyone’s mind and it reduced public trust in science. The researcher concluded that “political endorsement by scientific journals can undermine and polarize public confidence in the endorsing journals and the scientific community.”

“Positive effects among supporters of the endorsed candidate are null or small, and they do not offset the negative effects among the opposite camp. This probably results in a lower overall level of public confidence and more polarization along the party line. There is little evidence that seeing the endorsement message changes opinions about the candidates.”

In an editorial, Nature’s editor declared that the journal would make no apology for endorsing Biden. As President, Donald Trump “had laid waste to science and scientific institutions at home on issues from COVID-19 to climate change, and had gutted environmental regulations even in the face of increasing climate risk.” The editorial concluded: “We use our voice sparingly and always offer evidence to back up what we say. And, when the occasion demands it, we will continue to do so.”

Noble sentiments, but as the other article pointed out, it alienated members of the public: “The endorsement also significantly reduced trust in scientists in general among Trump supporters, creating a reputational externality on the entire scientific community.”