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Understanding the Basis of Trust and Perception

While people generally believe that science has a positive impact on their lives, recent data released from Pew Research Center shows that there is a large opinion gap between the public and scientists on many scientific issues.

What are the underlying reasons for this gap in trust and perception?

While more science and engineering education is frequently cited as a way to bridge this divide, studies show that much of what shapes public perception of science is based on individuals’ culture, beliefs, values, and attitudes, rather than scientific understanding. The successful communication of scientific processes and data relies on a clear understanding of what happens when individuals’ pre-existing views are challenged by new information. The media plays a pivotal role in the interface between scientists and the public, but the perception gap suggests a greater need for dialogue and engagement.

Research Focus

The American Academy will explore a series of questions pertaining to public trust in and perception of science, including:

  • What accounts for the public’s continuing trust in science?
  • How does the changing media landscape affect communication of scientific discoveries and information?
  • How can the scientific community contribute to efforts to maintain and strengthen public trust and support for research?

The American Academy will also host a series of discussions with its members in locations across the country to discuss the broad issue of public understanding of—and trust in—science. These events are designed to gather expertise and feedback to inform project work, and to encourage and equip the Academy’s membership to engage the public on scientific issues.

Initial roundtable discussions will be held in Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and elsewhere. (To learn more about these events, or to participate in this phase of the project, please contact Shalin Jyotishi, program coordinator for the Science, Engineering, and Technology Policy program.

Presentation of Findings

Conclusions and recommendations from this study will be shared in an upcoming issue of Daedalus, the Journal of the American Academy, and in a series of short reports issued over the course of the project.