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New study suggests that Americans don't trust scientists

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Americans don't trust scientists, at least according to research done by Princeton University.

But why don't Americans trust scientists? The research suggests that it is because Americans don't perceive scientists as warm or friendly. However, Americans still perceive scientists as competent.

Psychologists began their research by going online, asking adults to list out typical American jobs. From that list, researchers narrowed the list down to 42 of those jobs most referred to, which included professors, teachers, researchers and scientists.

Researchers used this new list and asked a new group of volunteers about these specific jobs. Volunteers rated these jobs based on how Americans viewed them, at least in terms of warmth and competence.

The results of this poll showed that professions perceived as caring, such as nurses and doctors, are also seen as warm and competent. In comparison, professions such as prostitutes and garbage collectors scored low in warmth and competence. Professions like writers, bus drivers and police had neutral ratings. The unemployed had low competence, but high warmth.

However, the most interesting results involved perceptions about scientists. Although Americans see the profession as competent, it is not seen as warm and brings about emotions like distrust.

"Science communicators arguably need to know about this possible type of response to them," says Susan Fiske, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology. "From this view, scientists may seem not so warm. Their intent is not necessarily trusted and maybe even resented."

A final online survey proved even more interesting. Researchers asked adults about their attitudes towards climate scientists. The survey used seven items of distrust to gauge reactions, including false statistics, complicated stories, superior attitudes, getting research funds and promoting a liberal agenda.

Climate scientists did fairly well on the trust level, seemingly more trusted than the general science community. However, those getting money for research funds scored lowest for trust.

Fiske states that the public is not necessarily ignorant and that their perception of science has a lot to do with how they perceive and trust (or not trust) scientists. She also pointed out that climate science has advantages when it comes to the public's trust.

"Climate science communicators have effectively conveyed much evidence, which should encourage their continuing to educate and communicate," says Fiske. "Just like other communication, science communication needs to continue to convey warmth and trustworthiness, along with competence and expertise."

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