It Takes a Village to Trust Science: Towards a (Thoroughly) Social Approach to Public Trust in Science

Erkenntnis 88 (7):2941-2966 (2022)
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In this paper, I distinguish three general approaches to public trust in science, which I call the individual approach, the semi-social approach, and the social approach, and critically examine their proposed solutions to what I call the problem of harmful distrust. I argue that, despite their differences, the individual and the semi-social approaches see the solution to the problem of harmful distrust as consisting primarily in trying to persuade individual citizens to trust science and that both approaches face two general problems, which I call the problem of overidealizing science and the problem of overburdening citizens. I then argue that in order to avoid these problems we need to embrace a (thoroughly) social approach to public trust in science, which emphasizes the social dimensions of the reception, transmission, and uptake of scientific knowledge in society and the ways in which social forces influence both positively and negatively the trustworthiness of science.

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Gabriele Contessa
Carleton University