Trust is the bedrock of relationships
The three co-sponsors opened the workshop by discussing the general theme, with Allison noting that “trust is the bedrock of relationships”, and John suggesting that “perhaps the public trusts chemistry more than chemists trust the public”.
This idea was continued by Steve Fuller, Professor of Social Epistemology, in his keynote speech. Steve’s perspective was particularly interesting as he approached the issue from a social sciences point of view. He stated that trust in science has less to do with the public trusting science, and more to do with scientists trusting the public to make judgements based on science. To do this we should stop calling people stupid and wrong, and provide an environment where people feel safe to reverse their decision and change their mind.
Steve also introduced the concept of science connoisseurship and said that general science education needs to be more sociological to gain science connoisseurship by the public.
Next there was a panel discussion entitled ‘Does the public trust science?’, featuring Steve Fuller, Katharine Al-Shamery from the University of Oldenburg, and Mark Schleifsten from The Times-Picayune.
Honesty in science
Katharina said, “Trust is related to the belief that there is honesty in science” and Mark added to this by encouraging scientists make sure this honesty is present in scientific journalism – by questioning reporters on their science knowledge and contacting reporters to ask for a correction if any mistakes are made.
Participants then broke up into groups and each group was given the profile of a person who had some mistrust in chemistry. The groups discussed how scientists could engage with this person with respect to trust.
The second panel addressed the question ‘How can chemical scientists facilitate dialogue across cultures to strengthen trust in knowledge and expertise?’ Our representative Nazira Karodia, Professor of Science Education at the University of Wolverhampton, featured on the panel. She opened the discussion by saying that access to life-saving power and food and divide cultures, and posed the question of how to stop this global divide.
Trust, ethics, and working with communities
Another panellist, Jani Ingram from Northern Arizona University, is half-Navajo and works to address chronic uranium exposure and cancer risk to the Navajo. She pointed out that scientists can establish trust and learn more about specific issues by engaging directly with communities.
The third panellist was Peter Gölitz, Former Editor-in-Chief of Angewandte Chemie/Wiley-VCH, Germany. He urged the three societies co-sponsoring the event to champion making ethics courses a mandatory part of university sciences programmes. He said that these would enable scientists to work more effectively with communities.
Scientists must start trusting the public
All the panellists had interesting and different approaches to the issue of public trust in chemistry. It’s a hugely complex issue, but I agree that scientists must start trusting the public if they want to be trusted in return.
The workshop also highlighted how closely linked public trust in chemistry is to a diverse chemical community. We are more likely to trust people that have experiences similar to our own, so a diverse community will be able to engage with and gain the trust of more people. I left the workshop with a lot to think about and hope that the conversation will continue.