Published March 8, 2024 | Version Final version after EC evaluation.
Project deliverable Open

D3.1 REPORT ON THE STRATEGIES, METHODS, AND TOOLS TO TACKLE SOCIETAL MISTRUST IN SCIENCE

  • 1. UCLan Cyprus

Description

In T3.1 we conducted a systematic review with the objective of identifying and categorising evidence-based practises that can be implemented to increase societal trust or to address societal mistrust in science. To identify all relevant evidence-based practises, reduce study selection bias, and increase the reproducibility of our methods, the systematic review methodology was deemed necessary.  

During the systematic review we searched three databases and screened 2835 potential records. Nineteen studies were found that have implemented interventions or manipulations – approaches, modalities, strategies aiming to change behaviour (APA, 2011) – to explore their effects on trust levels in individuals (either before and after the interventions/manipulations or compared to control groups). These 19 studies were grouped into three categories and seven themes: (1) science education (educational programmes), (2) science communication (communicator, conflicting evidence, media exposure, infographics), and (3) science advice (political endorsement, rapid response plans). Based on the literature review, 11 recommendations are proposed, which should be considered in future interventions that aim to tackle societal mistrust in science.  

Our results indicated that educational programmes, either short or long, can be used as interventions for improving trust in science. Regarding science communication, infographics can be implemented to increase trust levels due to their practical advantage (i.e., easy implementation). However, they might not always be effective, given that there is limited evidence supporting their superiority over control infographic interventions. The results also showed that the messenger matters. Scientific messages should be delivered by scientific agents, preferably experts involved in the research. Greater trust is likely attributed to experts with established prestige or affiliations with reputable institutions. Regarding the content of scientific messages, the delivered messages should focus on scientific rigour and the self-correcting nature of science (e.g., highlighting the equal value of both positive and negative findings). In case of scientific conflict, the message should focus on the current consensus, highlighting the inherent uncertainty and risks of science. An additional recommendation regarding science communication relates to utilising mass media as an outlet for scientific breakthroughs. Finally, the literature review identified some considerations – science advice – that need to be taken into account when designing interventions and the means that the message is being delivered. Specifically, explicit political endorsement should be avoided. If unavoidable, the risks and benefits should be evaluated to assess whether the gains outweigh the repercussions. Moreover, interventions and their messages should be aimed at specific segment(s) of the population; the prior level of trust and the demographic characteristics of the target group need to be considered to ensure cultural appropriateness. Lastly, it is recommended that a rapid risk response plan should be prepared for emergency cases that may threaten trust levels. 

In addition to these recommendations, the systematic review has highlighted certain limitations and provided suggestions for future project work. First, most data within the systematic review were derived from studies conducted in the USA, with very limited evidence from the EU. Second, the lack of a universal measure of trust restricts comparisons across studies, necessitating the development of a validated psychometric tool to accurately assess trust levels. Better target population segmentation and interdisciplinary collaborations are needed to address the heterogeneity of research designs and outcomes, allowing for more conclusive insights. Additionally, the consideration of sociodemographic aspects is crucial for tailoring strategies and addressing the specific concerns and needs of diverse populations. Future research activities will strive to prioritise the inclusion of these variables to uncover disparities and develop inclusive interventions within the ecosystem of trust.  

By addressing these limitations, policy-makers, researchers, journalists, and other stewards of trust can foster trust in science, promote equitable engagement, and enhance the relationship between science, society, and policy-making.  

A subsequent exploration of the main findings will be carried out in future project activities from a perspective of addressing these limitations. More specific conditions and circumstances will be identified to better understand which interventions might work for which stakeholders within the ecosystem of trust. This will also enable a more systematic categorisation of the identified methods and tools addressing societal mistrust in science with the use of a methodological framework built around the five ‘machines’ of trust, i.e., research ethics, research integrity, science communication, benefit sharing and technology assessment (to be concluded in future project activities in WP3). 

Files

D3.1_Report on the strategies, methods, and tools to tackle societal mistrust in science.pdf

Additional details

Funding

VERITAS – deVEloping scientific Research with ethIcs and inTegrity for shAred benefitS 101058623
European Commission