Project title: Trust and perception: key challenges facing geoscientists in practice and in Irish society
Researcher: Dr Jess Franklin
Communicating the complexities and uncertainties that are familiar concepts to geoscientists can be challenging. Less than half of surveyed participants in the SFI barometer 2015 on science felt they were well informed about research and development in science, while 70% believed that science was too specialised for them to understand and that they were not well equipped to understand science further (SFI 2015). Furthermore, only 22% of participants claimed they had ‘a lot’ of trust in the advice given by scientific experts (SFI 2015). Environmental issues are one of the STEM areas that people in Ireland are most interested in, therefore trust or distrust is often deepened around issues regarding the natural world. Communication regarding these issues can only be effective if there is a dialogue, an exchange of information with stakeholders, rather than just a presentation of information. In these kinds of settings, trust plays a crucial role in decision-making, whereby the trustworthiness of the spokesperson is used as a heuristic tool (Brewer and Ley 2013). Therefore, before the geoscience community can effectively start that dialogue, we need to understand how the geoscience community is perceived, and how trusted (or not) it is. This project aims to assess public perception of, and trust in, geoscience and geoscientists. Fostering and increasing public trust in geoscience is essential, because it can address the issues of accepting complexity and uncertainty, and it will help frame the dialogue and participation that are required. The overall aim of this project is to explore public perception of and trust in geosciences and geoscientists to improve the relationship between experts and non-experts, and to empower stakeholders to make better-informed decisions. To achieve this aim, this project will examine how members of the public view geoscience and geoscientists in Ireland. It will examine if they trust geoscientists in comparison to other professionals, such as environmental scientists before exploring how potential negative perceptions and lack of trust could be addressed. This project strives to provide a basis for reflection by the geoscience community. It is hoped that the outcomes will offer insights into how the geoscience community can enhance their standing in the public eye, can foster public trust and recognition, and be seen as informed and reliable actors in Irish society.