Boulevard René-Lévesque Est)
‘Public Trust in Science and the Justification Dilemma’
Conference by Gabriele Contessa (Carleton University)
*The conference will also be presented on Zoom.
Over the last couple of decades, a growing number of academics and commentators have become increasingly concerned about expanding pockets of mistrust of science among the publics of liberal democracies. In order to address these concerns, however, we need an adequate account of public trust in science. In this talk, I argue that the dominant individualistic approach to public trust in science, which takes public trust in science to be a trust relationship in which individual citizens are the primary trustors, is inadequate and that it should be replaced with what I call a social approach, which takes groups to be the primary trustors. I present a dilemma for the individualistic approach. If we set the bar low enough for ordinary people who trust science to be justified in their trust, then we must conclude that many cases of mistrust of science are also justified; but, if we set the bar so high that most cases of mistrust are not justified, then no ordinary people can have justified trust in science. The social approach takes the second horn of this dilemma. It maintains that, individually, most of us are not justified in trusting science (except, possibly, in a derivative sense) but that, nevertheless, some of us are part of a community that is collectively justified in trusting science. Our focus should therefore not be on how to persuade those who do not trust science to trust it but in building communities that are collectively justified in trusting it.