14 June 2024
Tackling Decline in Trust in Science

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The battle to bolster trust in science rages on, as a recent survey highlights a mixed response during the pandemic: a surge in confidence for a third of UK citizens, yet a concerning 7% experienced a dip. Unraveling the reasons behind this disparity is crucial for reinforcing the credibility of scientific endeavors.

Why some people don’t trust science—and how to change their minds



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In recent times, we have seen a variety of responses when it comes to people’s trust in science. While a third of people in the UK reported an increase in their trust during the pandemic, 7% said that their trust had actually decreased. This raises an important question: why is there such a difference in people’s attitudes towards science?

Deficit of Knowledge or Deficit of Trust?

For a long time, it was believed that the main reason some people reject science is simply because they lack knowledge and fear the unknown. It was thought that if we could just provide people with the facts, their attitudes would change. However, this approach has proven to be ineffective. Giving people scientific information has been found to have little impact on changing their beliefs. In fact, in some cases, scientific messaging has even backfired.

Confirmation Bias and Distrust

One reason why the information-led strategy fails is because people tend to discount or avoid information that contradicts their existing beliefs. This is known as confirmation bias. But there is also a deeper issue at play – some people simply do not trust the message or the messenger. This means that the problem of distrust in science is not solely due to a lack of knowledge, but also a lack of trust.

Understanding Attitudes towards Science

Research has shown that people who reject or distrust science are not well-informed about it. However, they often believe that they understand the science. This finding has been consistent across various studies on topics such as vaccines and genetically modified foods. It suggests that people who distrust science may have a misguided belief that their views are widely shared.

The Role of the Messenger

The messenger is just as important as the message when it comes to building trust in science. Surveys have consistently shown that politicians are not trusted to communicate science, while university professors are. This is an important consideration when trying to change attitudes towards science.

The Power of Consensus

One potential strategy to address negative attitudes towards science is to emphasize the consensus position. This approach has been used successfully in advertising, where statements like “eight out of ten cat owners say their pet prefers this brand of cat food” are commonly used. Research has shown that specifying the consensus position can help alter beliefs in scientific facts. It also clarifies what is misinformation or unsupported ideas, which is important given the circulation of conflicting evidence.

Prebunking Misinformation

Another approach is to prepare people for the possibility of misinformation. Misinformation spreads quickly, and attempts to debunk it often backfire. Instead, a strategy called “prebunking” can be used to inoculate people against the strategies used to promote misinformation. This approach is especially important in contexts where the science is still evolving and uncertain, as it helps address objections and build trust.

Reaching Out to the Disengaged

One challenge in science communication is that it often appeals to those who are already engaged with science. To change attitudes towards science, it is important to reach out to those who are disengaged. While no strategy is guaranteed to be 100% effective, it is worth trying different approaches to bridge the gap and build trust.

In conclusion, understanding why some people distrust science is crucial in finding ways to change their attitudes. It is not simply a matter of providing more information, but also addressing the deficit of trust. By considering the messenger, emphasizing the consensus position, prebunking misinformation, and reaching out to the disengaged, we can work towards building trust in science and promoting a more informed and scientifically literate society.

Further Information: Why some people don’t trust science—and how to change their minds

https://phys.org/news/2023-12-people-dont-scienceand-minds.html

FAQ’s

1. Why do some people reject science?

Some people reject science due to a deficit of trust rather than a lack of knowledge. They may discount or avoid information that contradicts their existing beliefs, known as confirmation bias. Additionally, they may not trust the message or the messenger delivering the scientific information.

2. How can scientific information change people’s attitudes?

Simply providing scientific information has been found to have little impact on changing people’s beliefs. In some cases, it can even backfire. To effectively change attitudes, it is important to consider the messenger and emphasize the consensus position to build trust.

3. Why do people who distrust science think they understand it?

Research has shown that people who distrust science often believe they understand it, despite being misinformed or lacking knowledge. This suggests a misguided belief that their views are widely shared.

4. How can misinformation be addressed in science communication?

Misinformation spreads quickly, and attempts to debunk it often backfire. A strategy called “prebunking” can be used to inoculate people against the strategies used to promote misinformation. This approach is especially important in uncertain scientific contexts.

5. How can attitudes towards science be changed for the disengaged?

Science communication often appeals to those who are already engaged with science. To change attitudes towards science, it is important to reach out to those who are disengaged. While no strategy is guaranteed to be 100% effective, trying different approaches to bridge the gap and build trust is worth pursuing.



Related Wikipedia Articles

Topics: Trust in science, Confirmation bias, Prebunking

Trust (social science)
Trust is the belief that another person will do what is expected. It brings with it a willingness for one party (the trustor) to become vulnerable to another party (the trustee), on the presumption that the trustee will act in ways that benefit the trustor. In addition, the trustor does...
Read more: Trust (social science)

Confirmation bias
Confirmation bias (also confirmatory bias, myside bias, or congeniality bias) is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one's prior beliefs or values. People display this bias when they select information that supports their views, ignoring contrary information, or when...
Read more: Confirmation bias

Fake news
Fake news or information disorder is false or misleading information (misinformation, including disinformation, propaganda, and hoaxes) presented as news. Fake news often has the aim of damaging the reputation of a person or entity, or making money through advertising revenue. Although false news has always been spread throughout history, the...
Read more: Fake news

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