The annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is a wonderful melting pot of many different science-relevant communities and each year, journalists, the interested public, policy makers and, of course, scientists themselves come together to take stock of where science is and where it is heading.
At this year’s meeting, which took place in Chicago from February 13th – 17th, the DFG-funded Priority Program 1409 “Science and the Public: The understanding of fragile and conflicting scientific evidence” organized a symposium on “How to Rebuild Informed Trust in Science: Insights from Social Sciences” with colleagues from the United States. The well-attended symposium with more than 100 participants crossed disciplinary boundaries from communication science and psychology to educational research. The panelists discussed conditions that are detrimental as well as those that enhance informed trust in science in light of fragile and conflicting scientific evidence. Developing informed trust is challenging because the establishment of scientific evidence is a continuous and ongoing process – results and theories are commonly considered tentative truth. Even scientific findings with a large degree of consensus (e.g., climate change) are continuously subject to debate and all findings are, in principle, revisable. In the face of needing concrete answers and immediate problem solving, however, the evolving nature of science knowledge often leads the public to question and discount the general veracity of science information.
The symposium was organized by Rainer Bromme (University of Muenster and lead PI for the Priority Program), who began with an overview of the topic. Following Bromme was a presentation by Mario Gollwitzer (Philipps-University Marburg) on research about the selective search for information by gamers and non-gamers in the context of the debate surrounding violent video games. Michaela Maier (University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany) talked about effects on trust in Science when scientific uncertainty is openly reported. Furthermore, leading researchers in the field from the US contributed: Bruce V. Lewenstein, Cornell University, discussed the role of learning activities related to in building trust in science, and Dietram A. Scheufele (University of Wisconsin) talked about recent trust deficit models, asking if they are a new dead end for communicating controversial science? Finally, Martin Storksdieck (National Research Council, Washington), served as discussant for the panel and explored the different themes for improving trust in Science. His contribution opened the floor for a lively discussion with and among the audience. A recording of the session is available via the AAAS website. (www.dcprovidersonline.com/aaas/?event_id=AAAS102&search_filter=&pageno=6).
The symposium was a follow up to a conference on empirical research on Public Understanding in Science, held in 2012 in New York, which was jointly organized and funded by the National Science Foundation and the DFG. Since 2012 this conference has inspired numerous exchanges and cooperative projects between the above mentioned German Research Program on Science and the Public and several researchers in the US working on related topics.