VA Barometer 2016: Swedish public’s confidence in medical research falls due to Macchiarini scandal

Press release 6 March 2017

The scandal surrounding the surgeon Paolo Macchiarini has led to a fall in confidence in medical research among one third of the Swedish public, who are familiar with the incidents. However, public confidence in researchers in Sweden in general has increased, although it has also weakened. These are the results of the annual VA Barometer conducted by the Swedish non-profit organisation VA (Public & Science).

One news story that has dominated the headlines over the past year is the surgeon Paolo Macchiarini’s research and trachea operations. Eighty percent of respondents in the VA Barometer had heard of Macchiarini. Among these, 35 percent said that the incidents have negatively affected their confidence in medical research. A tenth said that their confidence in research in other fields has also declined.

Somewhat surprisingly, general confidence in researchers has risen compared with last year. The percentage of respondents that have very or fairly high confidence in researchers at universities has risen from 84 to 89 percent.

“However, there are less people that have a ”very high” level of confidence and more with ”fairly high” confidence. We interpret this as a weakening of confidence,” said Maria Lindholm, Director of Research at VA (Public & Science).

Almost half of Swedes believe that politicians do not take sufficient account of research in their decision-making.

“Primarily it is climate, health care and education that are mentioned as examples of research fields that politicians do not take sufficient account of when making decisions,” said Maria Lindholm.

Swedes are generally interested in research. On a five-point scale from 1 (not at all interested) to 5 (very interested), nearly half of the respondents selected 4 or 5.

Respondents were also asked to say what comes to mind when different research areas are named. Forty-five percent could not make any associations with the humanities, compared with around 20 percent for social sciences and 10 percent for natural science. The easiest field to associate with is medicine, which only three percent had no idea about.

“Not unexpectedly, a person’s level of education affects their perceptions. It is about twice as common for Swedes with a university education to have a perception about the social sciences and humanities, compared to those with only compulsory-level education,” said Maria Lindholm.

Notes about the VA Barometer

Download the English version of the 2016/2017 VA Barometer.

The VA Barometer has been conducted annually since 2002. The survey is based on around 1,000 telephone interviews with a representative sample of the Swedish population aged 16–74 conducted by market research company, Exquiro. The questions that were asked in the interviews are available here: VA Barometer Interview Questions in English (PDF).

For further information contact Cissi Billgren Askwall, Secretary General of VA.

Vetenskap & Allmänhet, VA, (Public and Science) is a non-profit Swedish organisation whose purpose is to promote dialogue and openness between researchers and society. VA carries out surveys and studies, organises meetings and activities, and creates new formats for dialogue. Its members consist of some 80 organisations, such as authorities, universities, businesses, adult education associations and research funding bodies. In addition, it has a number of individual members. For more information visit

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