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Trust in Science and the Science of Trust

Part of the Progress in IS book series (PROIS)

Abstract

When risky technologies are debated in the media or when cases of scientific misconduct are made public, inevitable discussions arise about public loss of trust in science. However, trust in science reaches far beyond such incidents: trust is of much more fundamental importance for science. Clearly, trust is pivotal in doing science, since researchers in their everyday practice rely on the knowledge produced by other experts with different specialization and expertise. In the same way, trust is fundamental for the public understanding of science. Laypeople depend on the knowledge of scientific experts when developing a personal stance on science-based issues and arriving at decisions about them. Laypeople only possess a bounded understanding of science, but nowadays they are able to rapidly access all kinds of scientific knowledge online. To deal with scientific information, laypeople have to trust in scientists and their findings. We will at first describe the role of trust in doing and understanding science. Then a summary of international survey results on the general public’s trust in science are presented. Starting from these results and questions that arise from them, we extend and revise past conceptualizations of trust, arriving at a conceptualization of epistemic trust. Epistemic trust rests not only on the assumption that one is dependent on the knowledge of others who are more knowledgeable; it also entails a vigilance toward the risk to be misinformed. Drawing on empirical findings, we argue that the critical characteristics that determine the epistemic trustworthiness of a source of science-based information (for example, a scientist or a scientific institution) are the source’s expertise, integrity and benevolence. These characteristics have already been described in the model of trust provided by Mayer et al. (1995), but when it comes to trust in context of science, they must be redefined. Furthermore, trust judgments are not based solely on these characteristics, but depend on further constrains, which will be discussed in this chapter.

Keywords

  • Epistemic trust
  • Trust in science
  • Trust
  • Public understanding of science
  • Science communication
  • Division of cognitive labor

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Notes

  1. 1.

    ‘Science’ is a notion for a cognitive as well as a concrete social endeavor. The notion of Science is used to refer to distinguished bodies of knowledge (Science in a cognitive sense) as well as to abstractly refer to the institutions and people who are producing and maintaining these bodies of knowledge (Science in a social sense, see also Longino 2002). In order to emphasize that both meanings are covered, when not specified otherwise, we use a capital S.

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Correspondence to Friederike Hendriks .

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Appendix

Appendix

Table 1 Details about the surveys used for data on the public’s trust in science and scientists

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Hendriks, F., Kienhues, D., Bromme, R. (2016). Trust in Science and the Science of Trust. In: Blöbaum, B. (eds) Trust and Communication in a Digitized World. Progress in IS. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-28059-2_8

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