Building trust: a key element for science communication

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CONCISE held the project’s closing seminar titled “Path of trust for better science communication” last Friday, January 22. This online event was followed by almost one hundred people from all across Europe.

Ana Delicado, leader of the ICS-University of Lisbon team and Communication & Dissemination manager of our project, welcomed all the participants. Carolina Moreno-Castro, the CONCISE project coordinator, followed her by thanking all the project participants’ hard work over the past two years. Furthermore, Carolina´s presentation briefly introduced the methodological aspects of the citizen recruitment, data collection and citizen discourse analysis. After that, CONCISE research national teams offered some of the key factors that contribute to citizen confidence in science communication.

Isabel Mendoza, a researcher at ScienceFlows-Universitat de València, explained that, in the case of Spain, despite the great introduction of social networks in the country (62% of the population uses them, according to the Digital 2020 report by DataReportal), these were only among the most cited sources of information for the two environmental topics: climate change and genetically modified organisms. In this sense, although citizens refer to social networks as low-quality sources of information in the specific case of genetically modified organisms, they also recognise that reliability does not depend so much on the platform on which you get information but which users you interact with on each platform.

In the case of the health topics discussed (vaccines and alternative and complementary medicines), the public considers that social networks are not sources of trust. Although it is relevant how it has been detected that people who prefer to use the Internet as a source of information about vaccines are those who express more doubts about their benefits.

As explained by Malgorzata Dziminska, a researcher at the University of Lodz, the results of the consultation in Poland show that citizens tend not to give credibility to what they do not understand. Therefore, one of the main recommendations is to carry out a communication of science adapted to each sector of the population. In addition, she pointed out, despite the fact that the most consulted sources of information are not scientific ones, citizens do express interest in them and hope that scientific institutions will acquire an active role in communication.

Giuseppe Pellegrini, researcher at Observa Science in Society (Italy), pointed out how the results of the consultation in Vicenza show that trust and distrust are different for each of the topics discussed during the consultations. However, he pointed out, it is surprising how despite information being predominantly digital today, traditional media continues to have a great influence on citizens.

In line with this, Peter Gurán, a researcher at the University of Trnava (Slovakia) and responsible for the analysis of the consultation carried out in that country, pointed out how, despite the fact that citizens tend to use more frequently digital sources of information, traditional media have the most credibility.

Finally, the research team of the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon has verified, after analysing citizen discourses, how most of the proposals of the participants in the consultations are in line with unidirectional science communication actions. In this sense, João Estevens explained that only citizens who are already familiar with participatory science projects propose activities in this line.

Incentives and barriers to science communication

Carolina Llorente closed the session with the conclusions of the study carried out by the Studies Center on Science, Communication and Society (CCS-UPF), the aim of which was to identify barriers and incentives for communication from the perspective of researchers.

For scientists engaged in communication and dissemination activities, the main incentives were social commitment, the identification of science communication as a strategy to obtain personal or professional benefits, and the idea that dissemination is part of the research job. Regarding barriers, the main ones are lack of recognition (formal and informal), lack of time, and of specialised training. On the other hand, the participants also recognised the fear of being misunderstood or discredited.

Recommendations to improve science communication

The study of the citizen discourses has allowed the CONCISE team to publish a series of recommendations aimed at improving science communication, both at the European level and for each of the participating countries. Everything is published in Open Access.

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