Never Trust

Critical Thinking: Trust and Verify

We’re having trust issues. The world is facing a pandemic, but the solutions are not obvious. Headlines are full of reasons to mistrust governments that should be leading us through this crisis. Science offers a promising beacon for some. But others are dismissive. Make no mistake about it, all over the world, people are having difficulty trusting institutions of all kinds.

However, it just might be that this is a good thing for science.

Doubt Is Essential

Doubt and critical thinking are essential to science. Dean David Allison of the Indiana University School of Public Health tells us:

“Nearly every important scientific discovery – and every public health breakthrough – has begun with a good question.”

Writing in Scientific American, Liv Grjebine explains why questions and doubt are so essential for science:

“Doubt in science is a feature, not a bug. Indeed, the paradox is that science, when properly functioning, questions accepted facts and yields both new knowledge and new questions – not certainty.

“Doubt might be troubling, but it impels us towards a better understanding; certainties, as reassuring as they may seem, in fact undermine the scientific process.”

Dynamics of Trust

Edelman publishes an annual report on how trust is functioning in the global economy. In January of this year, before the pandemic, the 2020 report identified growing mistrust in what it calls the “mass population” of developed countries. Roughly two-thirds of respondents to this research did not have confidence that their leaders would be able to address current challenges.

Notably, scientists landed at the top in this research as being most trusted.

Growing Trust in Science

Of course, much has changed since January. And for trust in science, the effect has been positive. Before the pandemic, research from Ipsos and 3M suggested that skepticism about science had been rising. But this year, in July and August, respondents globally expressed significantly less skepticism than they did before the pandemic.

Indeed, it seems that the critical thinking of science might be an essential tool for addressing our trust issues. Trust is good, but only if it’s built upon reliable answers to good questions.

Click here for the Edelman Trust Barometer, here for more on the importance of doubt in science, and here for more on how trust in science has risen with the pandemic.

Never Trust, photograph © Jeremy Brooks / flickr

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October 10, 2020