Signaling the trustworthiness of science

Public confidence in science has remained high and stable for years. But recent decades have seen incidents of scientific fraud and misconduct, failure to replicate key findings, and growth in the number of retractions—all of which may affect trust in science.

A researcher in protective clothing and gloves gathers a water sample from a river.

In an article recently published in PNAS, a group of leaders in science research, scholarship, and communication propose that to sustain a high level of trust in science, scientists must more effectively signal to each other and to the public that their work respects the norms of science.

The authors offer a variety of ways in which researchers and journals can communicate this—among them, greater transparency regarding data and methods; ways to certify the integrity of evidence; the disclosure of competing or relevant interests by authors; and wider adoption of tools such as checklists and badges to signal that studies have met accepted scientific standards.

“This absence [of clear signals] is problematic,” write the researchers, including Kathleen Hall Jamieson, professor of communication at the Annenberg School for Communication and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center. “Without clear signals, other scientists have difficulties ascertaining confidence in the work, and the press, policy makers, and the public at large may base trust decisions on inappropriate grounds, such as deeply held and irrational biases, nonscientific beliefs, and misdirection by conflicted stakeholders or malicious actors.”

Read more at Annenberg School for Communication.