Journalism and Public Trust in Science

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Abstract

Journalists are often the adult public’s central source of scientific information, which means that their reporting shapes the relationship the public has with science. Yet philosophers of science largely ignore journalistic communication in their inquiries about trust in science. This paper aims to help fill this gap in research by comparing journalistic norm conflicts that arose when reporting on COVID-19 and tobacco, among other policy-relevant scientific topics. I argue that the public’s image of scientists – as depositories of indisputable, value-free facts, trustworthy only when in consensus – makes it particularly difficult for journalists to ethically communicate policy-relevant science rife with disagreement. In doing so, I show how journalists, like scientists, face the problem of inductive risk in such cases. To overcome this problem, I sketch a model of trust in science that is grounded in an alternative image of scientists – what I call the responsiveness model of trust in science. By highlighting the process of science over its product, the responsiveness model requires scientists to respond to empirical evidence and the public’s values to warrant the public’s trust. I then show why this model requires journalists to be the public’s watchdogs by verifying and communicating whether scientists are being properly responsive both epistemically and non-epistemically.

Author's Profile

Vanessa Schipani
University of Pennsylvania

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