More and more over the past year we continue to hear “trust in science” when it comes to social distancing recommendations and safety protocols in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. There are way too many cynics when it comes to trusting the professionals, and then they pulled it into the political arena which only made the situation worse.

They aren’t wrong. We should always trust science, medical and otherwise, when it is achieved through quality research.

As research continues around the treatment and extermination of the COVID-19 virus, research continues in other areas and in other sciences. Trust is important across the board.

There has been a lot of research and development in the field of computational trust in the past decade. The concepts of trust, mistrust and distrust interlink and they affect what goes on around us and within the systems we create.

Computers, and the world they touch, are interesting. For example, issues of IT security mean that everyone is distrusted equally, but some are distrusted more equally than others, while ‘trusted computing’ would have us believe that we are capable of trusting our computers and our networks with just a little more effort in the design and implementation process.

ECommerce vendors compete for the trust of consumers, tweaking websites, designing online experiences and generally falling over themselves in their eagerness to put right what has been pointed out as wrong, which is odd considering that distrust is an important motive force in such transactions as result.

Digitalization of work processes is advancing and this is increasingly supported by complex information systems. However, whether such systems are used by employees largely depends on users’ trust in these systems. The trust in computer systems and information science is as fickle as it is in the medical field and scientists.

Do doctors really know what they are talking about when they tell us vaccines are safe? Should we take climate experts at their word when they warn us about the perils of global warming? It is hard to convince the public to trust any kind of science when our own leaders don’t.

The boldest and most compelling defense of science is scientific knowledge itself. It is its greatest strength and the greatest reason we can trust it.

This process is not perfect—nothing ever is when humans are involved. However, there are vital lessons to be learned when the knowledge produced is trusted.

Melody K. Smith

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