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How we evaluate the trustworthiness of experts

Oct 26, 2023

Researchers at the University of Muenster in Germany conducted a 2015 study exploring how the average person assesses the trustworthiness of experts, in regards to scientific information. Science is an interesting field to examine, since few of us have the knowledge required to make sense of scientific studies or findings. In this area, we are almost always entirely reliant on strangers to interpret and faithfully relay observations or implications. The study found that people use three buckets of criteria to evaluate the trustworthiness of experts: expertise, integrity, and benevolence. Each of these buckets contain 4-6 evaluating criteria (such as intelligence, sincerity, and responsibility).

We think this study is a fascinating glimpse into the way our brains work and how we navigate unprecedented amounts of complex information. It sheds light on our own unconscious short-cuts and biases, while emphasizing the need to methodically assess the credibility of the sources we turn to most often. 

 

ACTION ITEM:

  • Isolate a recent scientific topic that feels meaningful to you (could be around personal or public health, the environment, the weather, animals, etc. )
  • Head to the person or outlet you would typically turn to learn more about this topic, and review a relevant piece of content . 
  • Review the list of criteria (under the expertise, integrity and benevolence buckets) in the figure below and reflect on your ability or inability to trust in the information you just consumed.

READ FULL PAPER:  Measuring Laypeople’s Trust in Experts in a Digital Age: The Muenster Epistemic Trustworthiness Inventory (METI)

KEY QUOTES:

“​​METI does not measure the trust that is generally placed in experts. Instead, it is directed toward the epistemic trustworthiness assigned to one specific expert in a specific situation in which a layperson decides whether to place epistemic trust in that one expert and rely on the information that she or he is giving”

“The METI also shows that laypeople assign trustworthiness on three separate dimensions, namely expertise, integrity, and benevolence. Hence, the METI offers a way of measuring the processes involved in laypeople’s deference to experts in today’s digital knowledge society in more detail. Our society is characterized by highly specialized, and vastly distributed knowledge, which is nonetheless accessible within seconds via online search engines [61]. We argue that the ability to evaluate the epistemic trustworthiness of scientific experts will become an increasingly important competence, because (as has been argued before) scientific facts may defy firsthand experience [2], and, moreover, the public’s understanding of scientific issues is bounded [4].”

KEY FIGURE:

Variables of Trustworthiness

Table 3. Standardized and unstandardized coefficients following CFA.

 

JOURNAL: PLOS ONE (Public Library of Science)

AUTHORS: 

  • Friederike Hendriks, Institute for Psychology, University of Muenster, Muenster, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany
  • Dorothe Kienhues, nstitute for Psychology, University of Muenster, Muenster, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany
  • Rainer Bromme Institute for Psychology, University of Muenster, Muenster, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

COMPETING INTERESTS: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

FUNDING: The study was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaf (DFG) within the Research Training Group “Trust and Communication in a Digitized World”: Project Nr.: GRK 1712/1; 591900. URL:http://gepris.dfg.de/gepris/projekt/175526080. Funding received: RB. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

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