Building Trust in Expertise: Continuing Policy Fellows Roundtable

10 May 2019


Banner image from March for Science

Reported by Katie Cohen, Research Assistant

CSaP's Continuing Fellows convened to discuss loss of public trust in expertise in a digitalised world and amidst changing political environments.

The discussion opened with Fellows presenting their current work and policy questions, ranging from the potential for the European Commission to capitalise on AI to prevent cyber-attacks, to balancing participatory and representative democracy in local government.

Researchers from the Expertise Under Pressure project, Dr Anna Alexandrova, Hannah Baker and Dr Federico Brandmayr, then highlighted some of their key questions about expert judgment, prompting a dynamic conversation that allowed policy makers around the table to provide their perspectives on the topic. Although expertise has come under pressure due to increased demand for evidence-informed policymaking, it has simultaneously come under intense scrutiny alongside the rise of social media and populist movements.

"As we grow more and more connected, we become less and less 'citizens'"

Professor Susan Owens' comment resonated with most in the room, aiming to explain why it is that public trust in scientific expertise seems to decline as society grows more interconnected.

Professor Jennifer Gabrys and Professor Susan Owens concluded the session by presenting two other interdisciplinary research projects grappling with questions of public attitudes towards research and expertise. Led by Professor Gabrys, Citizen Sense intends to "democratize the collection and use of environmental sensor data in order to facilitate expanded citizen engagement in environmental issues." In doing so, it helps to bridge the gap between the public and experts in order to achieve policy goals.

The ALLEA Working Group Truth, Trust and Expertise (WGTTE) aims to promote scientific research and its value in public discourse more broadly. As a contributing expert to the working group, Professor Owens discussed aspects of truth and accountability that some around the room found counterintuitive - for instance, that more accountability can hinder public trust in scientific expertise.

Overall, the evening sparked both provocative group discussion and ideas for collaborations between the policy makers and academics in attendance.