John Libbey Eurotext

Environnement, Risques & Santé


Revise the research system to increase public trust in science Volume 20, issue 1, January-February 2021

Ancien professeur de l’EHESP
Ancien responsable à l’Afsset du Programme national de recherche environnement santé travail
34, rue du port
22370 Pléneuf-Val-André
* Tirés à part

In modern societies, policy decisions, particularly those related to public health, seek their efficacy and legitimacy by resorting to the state of the art in science — appealing to the collective expertise of researchers. This informed approach, however, elicits mistrust among the public, which has difficulty in accepting divergent opinions on questions that require certainty, as is often the case in environmental health. In this article, we explain to an educated general public, who would like to know the attitudes of “people of science”, the precise meaning and limitations of “scientific knowledge”. But we also challenge these citizens by detailing certain flaws and shortcomings of the current system of scientific production, which is in the process of transformation. These findings are accompanied by proposals for remedial measures that often run counter to the current general policy orientation but which we believe to be the only ones capable of restoring a general climate of trust in science. Without public trust in science, no rational public deliberation about scientific standpoints is possible before decisions are made. And without prior deliberation, it is difficult to get the majority of citizens to accept decisions.