Social Indicators of Trust in the Age of Informational Chaos

Social Indicators of Trust in the Age of Informational Chaos

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  • September 27, 2022
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Expert knowledge regularly informs personal and civic-decision making. To decide which experts to trust, lay publics —including policymakers and experts from other domains—use different epistemic and non-epistemic cues. Epistemic cues such as honesty, like when experts are forthcoming about conflicts of interest, are a popular way of understanding how people evaluate and decide which experts to trust. However, many other epistemic cues, like the evidence supporting information from experts, are inaccessible to lay publics. Therefore, lay publics simultaneously use second-order social cues in their environment to inform decisions to trust. These second-order social cues, or ‘social indicators of trust’, prevent lay publics from having to trust blindly. Social indicators of trust therefore inform lay publics’ epistemic vigilance, or constant low level-monitoring of testimony from experts. This special issue examines the nature, acquisition and application of social indicators of trust for scientific experts and institutions. It also raises questions about the types of trust asked of lay publics and challenges traditional normative assumptions about the relationship between science and lay publics through study of attitudes, values, and experiences. The issue descriptively re-examines the structure of institutions, their role and methods for ferrying information, as well as how social indicators operate in times of crisis. In this collection of works, we bridge history, science, philosophy of science, science and technology studies, science communication and social epistemology, to broaden the discourse on trust in experts and more accurately reflect the imperfect yet indispensable endeavour that trusting is.

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