Public awareness of and opinions on the use of mathematical transmission modelling to inform public health policy in the United Kingdom


HPRU-EZI Authors: Christl Donnelly, Ruth McCabe


Mathematical modelling is used to inform public health policy, particularly so during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the public are key stakeholders, understanding the public perceptions of these tools is vital. To complement our previous study on the science-policy interface, novel survey data were collected via an online panel (‘representative’ sample) and social media (‘non-probability’ sample). Many questions were asked twice, in reference to the period ‘prior to’ (retrospectively) and ‘during’ the COVID-19 pandemic.

Respondents reported being increasingly aware of modelling in informing policy during the pandemic, with higher levels of awareness among social media respondents. Modelling informing policy was perceived as more reliable during the pandemic than in reference to the pre-pandemic period in both samples. Trust in government public health advice remained high within both samples but was lower during the pandemic in comparison with the (retrospective) pre-pandemic period. The decay in trust was greater among social media respondents. Many respondents explicitly made the distinction that their trust was reserved for ‘scientists’ and not ‘politicians’. Almost all respondents believed governments have responsibility for communicating modelling to the public. These results provide a reminder of the skewed conclusions that could be drawn from non-representative samples.


The Royal Society