Trust in Science

The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) recently published a report, in which a decline of public trust in science is signalled. In order to analyse the growing mistrust in science, we should distinguish between competency-based trust and benevolence-based trust. Is it possible that the competency-based trust in science is decreasing due to the increased acknowledgement of the complexity or ‘wickedness’ of the problems we face today? As a consequence, science should fundamentally reflect on its own competency to reveal the truth. If science starts with questioning our trust in the world as it appears and aims to restore our trust by providing reason, it becomes clear that science presupposes benevolence-based trust as well; science does not only trust its own competency to reveal the reason behind the world as it appears (instead of acknowledging our epistemic insufficiency), but also the benevolence of the world to show itself as it is. It is precisely this presupposition which is highly questionable. One of the basic experiences of 20th century philosophy, prepared by philosophers like Heraclitus and Nietzsche, is that nature fundamentally resist its full appropriation. David Hume for instance observed: “It must certainly be allowed, that nature has kept us at a great distance from all her secrets, and has afforded us only the knowledge of a few superficial qualities of objects; while she conceals from us those powers and principles on which the influence of those objects entirely depends”. The growing mistrust in science can therefore be seen as a call for drastic policy changes in order to enhance radical empiricism in science.

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