Jacob Wrestling with the Angel

The Vital Link Between Trust, Science, and Healing

It’s hard to miss that we’re having a crisis of trust. That’s because it’s playing out very loudly in American politics. You might have heard about the riot in Washington, DC – a horrid spectacle fueled by mistrust. But the crisis of trust reaches much further than politics. In fact, trust is essential for science and healing. If you need an example, COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy provides a vivid example. And on a broad scale, research tells us that we have much work to do on building trust.

The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer

This is not just a U.S. problem, either. It’s global. Edelman (a global PR firm) has been tracking issues of public trust now for two decades. They track it in 28 countries, collecting their largest samples of responses in the U.S. and China. In doing so, they consider responses from the general public and then split that into subsets they identify as the informed public and the mass public. The informed public comprises only 17 percent of the world’s population and represents educated, affluent individuals who are engaged with public policy and business news.

The results are striking. The pandemic has caused a huge loss of trust in government around the world. Relatively speaking, the public sees both government and media  as unethical and incompetent. The perception of NGOs is that they are ethical, but relatively incompetent. Only the business sector enjoys a relatively positive reputation for both competence and ethics.

A Pandemic of Misinformation

This is a stark shift since the early days of the pandemic in May, when government was the most trusted sector. Now that position falls to the business sector. CEO Richard Edelman calls this an era of information bankruptcy:

“The violent storming of the U.S. Capitol last week and the fact that only one-third of people are willing to get a Covid vaccine as soon as possible crystalize the dangers of misinformation.”

Science and Facts: Useless Without Trust

The gap in trust between the mass public and the informed public has reached a record high this year all around the world. The mass public has become less trusting of information from every source over the last year – especially when compared to the informed public. Disparities in wealth and health fuel disparities in trust when times are hard.

Academic and technical experts remain at the top of rankings for credibility, but their credibility dropped sharply in the last year. Thus we see scientific advances lose their value when the misinformation overwhelms the mass public. We have a remarkably effective COVID vaccine, but only a third of the world’s population is ready to take it as soon as possible.

Likewise, we have new and deep insights into obesity and health, but too many people trust their own biases more than the science.

Critical Thinking

Trust is difficult to build and easy to lose. It requires skills for discerning what is true and placing a high value upon it. But only a quarter of the population practices good skills for filtering out bad information. Edelman calls this information hygiene. We call it critical thinking. It is just as essential for building trust as it is for pursuing science.

We hear many calls for healing from our present troubles. For that to happen, we will have to separate truth from lies. Building trust will be essential part of the process.

Click here for further perspective on truth and reconciliation, here and here for more on the Edelman Trust Barometer, and here for more about ongoing battles over truth itself. For our earlier perspectives on this vital subject, click here and here.

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, painting by Paul Gauguin / WikiArt

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January 19, 2021

One Response to “The Vital Link Between Trust, Science, and Healing”

  1. January 19, 2021 at 2:39 pm, David Brown said:

    As the saying goes, “In God we trust. Everyone else supply data.”

    What academic and technical experts know is all too often based on a textbook understanding of reality. And mistakes in public health policy are all too often perpetuated due to academic expert consensus as to what the data mean rather than the actual data. Perhaps that was the point Richard Carmona and colleagues were trying to make when they wrote, “Given the safety profile of vitamin D, the 40% prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in the U.S., and the fact that this season will likely be the deadliest phase of the pandemic to date, we need to act now. Identifying and eradicating vitamin D deficiency with early and aggressive supplementation in COVID-19 has the potential to save thousands of lives and should be one of our highest public health priorities.” https://www.medpagetoday.com/infectiousdisease/covid19/90530