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Comment: Trust in Science grants aim to build bridges with the public

by Mick Hurrey, chair, ACS Committee on Chemistry and Public Affairs , Scott Goode, chair, ACS Committee on Public Relations and Communications , Kelly Elkins, member-at-large, ACS Division of Professional Relations
May 16, 2024 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 102, Issue 15


A photo of Mick Hurrey, chair of the ACS Committee on Chemistry and Public Affairs.
Credit: Christine Brennan Schmidt
Mick Hurrey

The Trust in Science Roundtable is a grassroots effort to keep the momentum going from ACS immediate past president Judy Giordian’s work during her tenure to reverse declining trust in science. The roundtable is composed of representatives from the Committee on Chemistry and Public Affairs (CCPA), the Committee on Public Relations and Communications (CPRC), and the Division of Professional Relations (PROF).

To increase citizens’ trust in science, we need to build bridges so that they trust in scientists as people first. To do this, we must not minimize or belittle them but explain science using terminology and concepts that are consistent with their education and experiences. Not everyone will listen. It can be difficult. But most people listen to those they trust.

Let’s start with a story. Every day for several years, you drop your elementary schoolchildren at the crosswalk. You make friends with other parents, neighbors, and even the crossing guard. Over the years, you become close with the crossing guard, who you feel assured is watching over your children and also monitoring lunch, recess, and the halls throughout the school day. You have developed trust in one another. You’ve spoken about your role as a scientist.

One day, the crossing guard asks, “So, tell me about chemtrails. Are they really spraying chemicals from airliners to control the public?”

How would you respond? As chemists and scientists, we pride ourselves on being objective and forming conclusions from data. We can become frustrated with misinformation and want to share data and statistics to bolster our point. But a person not trained in science might not be able to tell misinformation from “true” data.

To increase citizens’ trust in science, we need to build bridges so that they trust in scientists as people first.

Caring about others and our communities is at the center of the Trust in Science initiative. Trust in Science is about scientists having empathy, seeing the world through the eyes of others, and acting with compassion—and trust—when listening to and speaking with others. The way you respond to the crossing guard who protects your children should be with the same respect, kindness, and patience you give to anyone you respect. In this example, you could explain that while you’re not an airline industry expert, you know something about how this works. To show your trust in others and respect for their opinion, you can ask why they think dangerous chemicals are being sprayed. Listening to the concerns and opinions of others helps gently build dialogue without attempting to educate with a lot of science and data. Focusing on the conversation and resisting the desire to jump in with a response or instruct people in science is difficult. We must develop a keen ear for listening and not judge our fellow citizens.

What about those vapor trails? You could start by saying that you’ve also wondered about those trails. And with your training and reading, you realized that these are “vapor” trails. The hot air from the airliner’s engine contains water that condenses to vapor in the cold sky to form a cloud. If you can sit down and talk about chemtrails with someone willing to listen, then maybe over time you can talk with them about climate change or science funding or vaccinations. Trust in Science is focused on starting these conversations.

Get involved! The Trust in Science Roundtable has created Trust in Science grants to help local sections, divisions, student chapters, and international chapters develop unique opportunities to reach out to their communities and try to increase the public’s trust in science and scientists. We are looking for projects that educate and engage the public, have a measurable impact, have a strong sense of volunteer involvement, are well planned and advertised, and are inclusive. The Trust in Science Roundtable will be giving out grants ranging from $1,500 to $4,500 in July. We will prioritize impact over size and expense. So if you have a small project with a big impact, we want to fund it! If you have a big project that you think will be a huge success, bring it on! Visit to apply. The deadline for applications is July 15.

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.


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