10 Highlights from PERITIA’s Research in 2021

As 2021 comes to an end, we look back on a year of research, events and engagement in PERITIA. We have selected 10 highlights from these past months, from scientific conferences, articles to panel discussions and interviews. We hope this selection helps to build a more comprehensive understanding of the prospects of trust in science for 2022.

  1. Experts should not be reduced to “pure scientists”. What an expert is has been discussed by many schools of thought. Some say that “experts are those who get things right”, others focus on their role in “knowledge distribution”, while their gatekeeping function also attracts attention. But what if experts are only in relation to those who attribute their role to serve the community? Or are experts those who possess better evidence or more reliable reasoning skills? PERITIA investigators Maria Baghramian and Michel Croce examine the nature of expertise in their chapter ‘Experts, Public Policy and the Question of Trust’, published in the Routledge Handbook of Political Epistemology. To dive deeper into the topic, we recommend the Words Matter podcast episode What Makes an Expert with Carlo Martini.
  2. Who needs accuracy? “Although people generally aim at getting a fair representation of reality, accuracy about scientific issues only matters to the extent that individuals perceive it as useful to achieve their own goals”, conclude our colleagues Tiffany Morisseau, Ty Branch and Gloria Origgi. Examining the uptake of hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment of Covid-19 in France, as well as the media hype and public concern for (online) misinformation surrounding this topic, the article argues that “people who endorse scientific misinformation are not truly interested in its accuracy”, and that many times “plausibility at face value often suffices when it is meant to be used for social purposes only.”
  3. Underestimating the role of values and emotions in policymaking. “Looking at the political scene today, many experts and policymakers may have underestimated the role of emotion and values in establishing trust and trustworthiness. (…) People perceive trustworthiness not just in those formal criteria of competence, track record, etc. but also in terms of group values, group emotions”, says PERITIA’s coordinator Maria Baghramian in a six-part conversation at the philosophy and music festival ‘How The Light Gets In’.
  4. Digital media and trust in science: a complicated relationship. Before digitalisation became central to our lives, trust was placed in systems of human-made rules, mediated by institutions like journalism or science. With the online transformation, the “new models of trust” are being redefined in “black boxes”: AI-driven, ungoverned sets of standards created within global companies and with no clear accountability. What can we do about this? How should we govern (European) platform societies? Check out this year’s PERITIA ‘Trust in Expertise in a Changing Media Landscape’ conference and the subsequent special issue on the topic for more.
  5. Trusting wisely. Mark Alfano, winner of the special PERITIA prize on Trust and Vulnerability, presents his latest research in this one-hour lecture.  He uses computational analyses to understand people’s behaviour online and their trust decisions and attitudes during the pandemic. Two curious findings stand out: 1) Open-mindedness is the single best predictor when supporting public policies and resisting conspiracy beliefs. 2) As social media companies removed false scientific statements, anti-vaxxers social media voices in the USA adapted their discourse from anti-science arguments to appeals for freedom of choice, moving closer to Republican messages.
  6. Some lessons from Covid-19 expert advice on social media. What is the role of non-expert voices on social media at times of a health crisis? What can happen when a government asks for help to a social media influencer to communicate expert advice? José van Dijck, winner of the prestigious Spinoza Prize in 2021, and Donya Alinejad extract some lessons from their research on social media communication and trust in scientific advice during the early stages of the pandemic in the Netherlands. To retain public trust in the new information environment, policymaking involves not just taking evidence-informed decisions. Instead, we should also distinguish between (i) soliciting expert advice (to emphasize common knowledge), (ii) making political choices (to create common ground), and (iii) communicating those choices, including the expert evidence.
  7. Creating a climate of trust is the responsibility of many. Trust is complex, fragile and takes time to build. It is not only up to science communicators and scientists alone to create and maintain the conditions to establish or re-establish trust in science, argue the panellists in this 1-hour discussion at the Irish Sci:Com festival. Moderated by Shane Bergin, PERITIA experts point out the role of politicians in their use of science and of citizens in their use of social media as co-creators of a healthy climate of trust in science.
  8. When Big Tech governs right-wing platforms. A PERITIA case-study by José Van Dijck, Tim de Winkel and Mirko Tobias Schäfer examines the case of Gab, one of the well-known fringe platforms that has survived several rounds of deplatformization since its inception in 2017 . Evaluating deplatformization in terms of governance, the question that arises is who is responsible for cleansing the ecosystem: corporations, states, civil society actors, or all three combined?
  9. The holy grail of science communication. Many discussions on trust in science in recent years end up in the search for a holy grail: trustworthy and trust generating science communication. To that end, we offered more than our 2 cents in this year’s Future of Science Communication Conference, an international event with over 1000 practitioners and researchers. PERITIA experts Tracey Brown, Maria Baghramian, Carlo Martini, Folco Panizza, Piero Ronzani, Kirstie Hewlett and Rebecca Bensontook part in various panels and workshops, offering their latest findings on how to frame a feasible concept of trust for science communication, looking into gamification strategies and social media fixes to fight science disinformation, or comparing trust in science surveys across countries.
  10. Our gifts for your holidays. If you are bored of holiday movies these coming weeks, we recommend you visiting our YouTube page for a 10-hour crash course on trust in science, vaccine hesitancy, knowledge resistance, conspiracy theories, climate inaction, and much more. We were lucky to assemble some of the brightest thinkers on these topics in our PERITIA lectures series [Un]Truths: Trust in an Age of Disinformation. In addition, you could also motivate your younger family members to submit a proposal for the Youth on Trust Awards.