Scientists as Experts: Understanding Trustworthiness Across Communities
Scientists are often confused and surprised when their work is met with distrust from members of the public. Though many instances of distrust lack warrant, failures in the trustworthiness of scientific communities can justify such distrust. In the first part of this paper, I examine the conditions for scientists’ trustworthiness as expert knowers, emphasizing scientists’ dual role as both generators and communicators of knowledge and revealing some of the complications and challenges of being a trustworthy communicator. In the second part of this paper, I turn my attention to the distrust of scientific communities sometimes evident in socially marginalized groups. Theorists such as Naomi Scheman (2001) have provided interesting arguments to the effect that a legacy of poor interactions with scientific communities can provide good reasons for members of marginalized groups to distrust scientific communities and their claims. I focus on two aspects of such a position that require further development. First, the mechanisms of marginalization play out differently for various social groups, and hence the reasons such groups have for distrust will vary accordingly. One does not simply get from social marginalization to a singular set of reasons for scientific distrust. Second, the target of reasonable distrust needs to be more carefully specified than simply “science” or “scientific communities”. There may be strong reasons for distrusting specific communities of science or particular research areas without a blanket scientific distrust being justified. I conclude with some suggestions concerning how scientific communities might improve their trustworthiness across a variety of social groups.