Janet MICHAUD and John TURRI

ABSTRACT: Understanding science requires appreciating the values it presupposes and its social context. Both the values that scientists hold and their social context can affect scientific communication. Philosophers of science have recently begun studying scientific communication, especially as it relates to public policy. Some have proposed “guiding principles for communicating scientific findings” to promote trust and objectivity. This paper contributes to this line of research in a novel way using behavioural experimentation. We report results from three experiments testing judgments about the trustworthiness, competence and objectivity of scientists. More specifically, we tested whether such judgments are affected by three factors: consulting or not consulting non-scientists, conducting research under a restrictive or non-restrictive governmental communication policy, and the source of a lab’s funding (i.e., government funding, private funding, or a combination of the two). We found that each of these factors affects ordinary judgments of trustworthiness, competence and objectivity. These findings support several recommendations that could help improve scientific communication and communication policies.

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