Nobel laureate Donna Strickland launches trust in science network


Nobel Prize laureate and UW professor Donna Strickland launched the Trust in Research Undertaken in Science and Technology (TRuST) network on Jan 9. She is one of several co-founders alongside Ashley Rose Mehlenbacher and other UW professors. The network was originally called the Trust in Science and Technology Research Network before being renamed to TRuST.

TRuST aims to improve scientific communication, restore public trust towards researchers, and teach people how to better evaluate content quality. With experts from all UW faculties, it is the first multidisciplinary Canadian research network focused on trust in scientific communication.

Strickland won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics for her 1985 research on chirped phase amplification in lasers. She cited the public’s reactions to climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic as major inspirations behind launching TRuST.

Mehlenbacher is a Canada Research Chair in Science, Health, and Technology Communication. She said she joined the network due to its multidisciplinary structure.

“What’s really compelling to me about this research network is its transdisciplinary possibilities,” Mehlenbacher said. “That means, moving beyond a particular discipline to think somewhat differently about the topic and how to approach it.”

Mehlenbacher explained in an earlier web article that building trust is key to upholding the credibility of researchers. She stated there are many reasons people may distrust experts, such as being past recipients of harm or holding discriminatory beliefs themselves.

Additionally, she listed different strategies researchers can use to regain trust among the public. Acknowledging current knowledge gaps and promoting diverse backgrounds among experts are two examples.

However, the exact reasons people may trust or distrust certain experts depends on the situation.

“How and why people may trust in some area of science or specific experts changes with each issue or case, and there have certainly been new topics and issues over the course of my career,” Mehlenbacher explained. “The role of pre-prints — articles that go online before peer review, the acceleration of research and its outputs, [and] sharing scientifically relevant information through social media were all happening before, but attention to these forms of communication by broader audiences is, for instance, one change.”

As for students, one way they can assess the quality of their content is through RADAR:

  • Relevance: How is the information useful for one’s own needs?
  • Authority: Who produced the content and are they qualified to publish it?
  • Date: Is the information recent enough and does it still stand?
  • Accuracy: Is the information based on and supported by other reputable sources, and does the research make sense?
  • Rationale: Why did the author produce the content?

Another question students can ask themselves is how strongly the content makes them feel.

As Mehlenbacher explained, “That’s not always a bad thing to feel strongly, but sometimes bad-faith content is designed to target us emotionally, so it’s a good thing to note strong feelings when they come up and examine those.”