Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 399–409 | Cite as

Scientific Research and the Public Trust

  • David B. ResnikEmail author


This essay analyzes the concept of public trust in science and offers some guidance for ethicists, scientists, and policymakers who use this idea defend ethical rules or policies pertaining to the conduct of research. While the notion that public trusts science makes sense in the abstract, it may not be sufficiently focused to support the various rules and policies that authors have tried to derive from it, because the public is not a uniform body with a common set of interests. Well-focused arguments that use public trust to support rules or policies for the conduct of research should specify (a) which public is being referred to (e.g. the general public or a specific public, such as a particular community or group); (b) what this public expects from scientists; (c) how the rule or policy will ensure that these expectations are met; and (d) why is it important to meet these expectations.


Public trust Science Ethics Policy Public expectations 



This research was supported by the Intramural Program of the National Institute of Environmental Health Science (NIEHS), National Institutes of Health (NIH). It does not represent the views of the NIEHS, NIH, or U.S. Government.


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Copyright information

© US Government 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Institute of Environmental Health SciencesNational Institutes of HealthResearch Triangle ParkUSA

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