This might give the impression that such conversations are best avoided. But it’s important to have constructive conversations about science and engineering topics because of their impact on our lives.
Not having these conversations can lead to more division and strained relationships. Avoiding such conversations could also have serious consequences for supporting scientific research, such as the continued development of life-saving vaccines, or how we might regulate emerging technologies such as generative artificial intelligence.
The ancient Greeks had a term for opportune times, or those qualitative measures of time when things just seem right for an action. They called them kairotic. The term Kairos is a qualitative measure of time, as opposed to chronosor linear quantitative time.
It’s a kairotic This is a great time to talk about trust – which we might consider a very old idea but is very important today – as we see new science emerging and technologies rapidly developing.
The consequences of allowing science and technology issues to be so polarized that we don’t talk about them include economic impactsCanada is falling behind in the applied and basic scientific research And responsible technology development.
OUR inaugural event of a conference series started this conversation about trust in science, technology and health in Canada, and we hope to continue these conversations through an ongoing conference series and collaborations with other researchers and organizations.
Our job requires the hardest questions about why people do – or do not – trust science and technology, who is found trustworthyhow trust is won and lost and how we can have conversations about science and technology that serve us all.
In doing so, we hope to start conversations about these topics, not provide definitive answers or tell anyone what to think.
A crisis of confidence?
Although there appears to be a crisis of public trust, the concepts of trust and who is trustworthy are very complex. Trust in scientists and interest in science have remained high for several years, but certain trends raise the question of whether this is changing.
Overall, trust doctors and scientistsfor example, appears to have declined somewhat since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when confidence was slightly higher than normal.
Surveys and polls give us high-level information, but we also know that some issues become controversial. We also know that the way questions are asked in a survey or poll can influence the nature of the responses. For example, if we ask “do you trust scientists,” are you thinking of scientists in general or are you thinking of a specific scientist?
Sometimes the controversy is manufacturedas in the case of climate change where the dominant consensus among scientists has been strategically downplayed. Sometimes the way we formulate a problem can lead to confusion and distrust.
When an issue is controversial, it can become polarizing and polarizing language can influence the way we think and talk about issues.
Communicate through disagreement
How do we talk to each other when we may not agree?
Firstly, you must have capacity, both emotional and in terms of conversational skills, as well as some knowledge of and interest in a subject to undertake this work.
Listening is a good place to start, and by that we mean genuinely trying to hear and understand someone’s point of view. You may disagree, but you can’t engage their ideas if, for example, you talk about if something actually happened and someone else is speculating about what happened.
This may seem like a subtle distinction, but these are the important distinctions. In the field of rhetoricwe could talk about this as a problem of stasis: you are asking the question of whether something is a fact and someone else is talking about the definition of what they have already considered a fact.
Listening means working hard to determine what someone else is talking about and while you may still disagree, point out misinformation or difficult points, you must do so with empathy and respect. We can work to build bridges that move the conversation forward in productive ways.
This implies a certain respect for the person you are speaking to, even if you are an expertyou need ethos which means a character built on goodwill (eunoia), Good morals (fish bone) and common sense or reason (phronesis) – and also the good will to understand their point of view.
However, goodwill goes both ways. If someone you’re listening to doesn’t seem to be participating in a conversation in good faith or with good will, it may be time to apologize.
Better science, better technology
Improving science, our ethical processes for developing and deploying technologies, and how we engage in conversations about how these efforts should shape our communities and daily lives also requires work from scientists, engineers, and researchers. other experts.
Developing strategies to talk about our research methods and how science works and, above all, to listen to people’s concerns is a first step towards communicate science responsibly and ethically. It is a step that experts can take with family, friends and in their community. It is also very important to work to support the sharing of knowledge from a wide variety of experts who better reflect the range of people and experiences in our communities.
Because trust requires certain types of vulnerability, expert trustworthiness is important in science and technology.
Relations between experts and non-experts are asymmetrical. Experts often possess knowledge that others need, and others must trust that they will provide that knowledge and will do so with good will, good sense, and good judgment, consistent with shared values. When this appears not to be happening, trust may be reduced or lost.
Trust is essential to the progress of science itself and to the progress of science for the progress of society.