Scientific organizations and publications have become increasingly involved in electoral politics. In the run-up to the 2020 US presidential election, numerous influential scientific publications, including NatureScientific American, the Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine and Science, published editorial pieces criticizing then-president Donald Trump’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic and his antagonistic attitudes towards science. Most of these journals urged voters to replace Trump. Among them, NatureScientific Americanand the Lancet explicitly endorsed his challenger Joe Biden1. This marked the first time Scientific American or the Lancet had made a political endorsement. These publications were joined by 81 American Nobel laureates in endorsing Biden’s candidacy2.

The increased political engagement by scientists raises concerns that their endorsements cause right-wing backlash3. Trust in the scientific community has been declining in the United States for decades, with the most pronounced decline among those on the political right4. During the COVID-19 pandemic, such scepticism towards scientific expertise reduced compliance with public health interventions5 and may explain the partisan difference in compliance6,7, with important implications for public health outcomes8. By endorsing a Democratic candidate in a polarizing presidential election during the pandemic, scientists risk intensifying existing distrust from a large segment of the population, particularly because these endorsements were widely reported by conservative media outlets