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Uh-Oh: Protestant Confidence in Medicine Is in Freefall

Uh-Oh: Protestant Confidence in Medicine Is in Freefall

As Americans brace for a potential coronavirus outbreak on their own shores, it’s a good time to look at just how much faith we have in medicine. Experts and doctors are issuing preventative measures like maintaining high standards of personal hygiene and taking care of yourself if you get sick, but how much faith do Americans really have in medical science? The answer, when it comes to religious groups, is a little concerning. For Protestants in particular, it’s in a sharp decline.

Assistant Professor of Political Science Ryan Burge has released the results of his own data analysis which suggests that while several religious traditions have steadily lost their faith in medicine over the last several decades, the plummet is particularly sharp among Protestant groups.

Evangelicals have seen their confidence in medicine nearly halve since 1973, from 60.1 percent saying they had a “great deal” of confidence to just 31.5 percent in 2018. Black Protestants have seen nearly as sharp a decline, with 52.9 percent dropping to 27.2 percent.

Among the groups surveyed, only Jews experienced an increase in their confidence in medicine, rising from 42.2 percent to 48.7 percent. Mainline Protestants and Catholics both saw roughly a ten percent drop in their confidence between 1973 and 2018.

And it’s not just religious groups. Those with “no faith in particular” said their confidence dropped from 49.3 percent in 1973 to 40.9 percent in 2018.

This study doesn’t examine why Americans might be losing their trust in medicine. In the comments to his tweet, Burge suggested it might be part of a broader trend of a general loss of trust in institutions, be they religious, political or, yes, scientific. You can see some evidence for the latter in the skepticism around things like manmade climate change (mostly among conservatives) and vaccines (primarily among liberals).

It’s too early to say how or if this will affect the possibility of a coronavirus vaccine. The quest to create one is on, but doctors are wary of giving a timeline about just how soon it could get here. The question of when we’ll have one and how affordable it will be for Americans remains an open one as does, apparently, whether or not we’ll trust it.

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