What drives public trust in science-based policies?

PERITIA has been featured on a story and a series of interviews on the European Science Media Hub, the service of the European Parliament that brings journalists, scientists and policymakers together. The article presents the key questions of PERITIA’s research and considers its connections to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We live in complex times. Times when the opinion of uninformed sources in social media seems to have a stronger influence than expert voices. And if this is a worrying situation at normal times, in exceptional times like in the midst of a global pandemic, knowing whom to trust becomes practically a matter of life and death, for the success of social interactions depends mainly on trust. Furthermore, from the perspective of policy making, trust in the origin of and the reasons for those policies are vital for their implementation.Read more

In three interviews with our researchers, key questions of the project are discussed. Our principal investigator Maria Baghramian delved into the fundamentals of trust and why science advice is so relevant these days:

“(…) we lead a life that is dependent on expert knowledge and we seldom show any hesitation to rely on, and indeed to put trust in the superior knowledge. This fact is even more pronounced in the public sphere. To do their job well, policy makers, in both the public and the private sector, have to rely on specialised knowledge, reliable data and well-informed projections. Reliable information is the currency that makes the wheels of policymaking turn smoothly and experts are the source of such information. And this is where the question of trust comes in.” Read more

José van Dijck, responsible for our analysis of media impact on trust, commented on the dangers of the so-called “infodemic” during COVID-19, particularly when political actors actively engage in promoting untrustworthy sources:

“For instance, how can we tell which information on Covid-19 is trustworthy? We have witnessed how misinformation in the form of bogus remedies against corona infections have flooded social media (…). Government officials who promote untrustworthy sources have turned out to pose immense challenges in trying to tame the ‘infodemic’, especially in the US and Brazil” Read more

Bobby Duffy, who is working on data collection and analysis within PERITIA, emphasized the role of emotions in understanding how trust works:

The conclusion of my book is not that facts are useless, it’s just that the presumption that we can just tell people they’re wrong, here is the correct information – whether that’s on vaccines, the economic impact of immigration or threats to the environment – and expect them to just accept them and change their point of view is just not how it works. Our views of the world are tied up in our own identities and emotional reactions. This is exactly why a detailed, nuanced study of trust is so vital and useful.” Read more