PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


Laypeople’s inferences about a science blogger’s trustworthiness
Two experimental studies

Friederike Hendriks  

A digitized knowledge society is not only marked by easy access to scientific information, also the public is increasingly challenged to deal with science-based information (Bindé, 2005). For laypeople, due to limited background knowledge, dealing with science-based information may be challenging. However, judgements about an expert's epistemic trustworthiness (Origgi, 2014) may guide laypeople's' reasoning about scientific information (Bromme, Kienhues, & Porsch, 2010). While traditionally, science journalists would rehash scientific information for the public's use, nowadays information stemming directly from scientists is easily accessible to laypeople online. For example, experts engage in discussion with other experts in science blogs (Batts, Anthis, & Smith, 2008). Comments added to blog entries may entail critiques about the content (flaws, limitations) as well as contextual information (political or ethical considerations). The aim of the two studies was to determine if scientific flaws or ethical aspects, added in comments to science blog entries by further experts or bloggers themselves, influence laypeople's judgments of a science blogger's trustworthiness (i.e. expertise, integrity, and benevolence). In study 1, it was found that if another expert's comment pointing to a scientific flaw was added, it diminished perceptions of a science blogger's expertise. However, if the blogger admitted this flaw herself, it was beneficial for participants' judgments about her benevolence and integrity. Study 2 scrutinized how comments entailing ethical aspects affected a science blogger's epistemic trustworthiness. It was found that especially another expert's comment entailing ethical concerns (instead of advantages) induced vigilance towards a blogger's benevolence and integrity, while benevolence and integrity ratings were not negatively affected by comments pointing out ethical concerns or advantages, when authored by the science blogger herself. These results show how laypeople calibrate judgements of trustworthiness, depending on the information accessible to them, and hence, give insights into how laypeople deal with science-based information online.

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