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Smart and Shifty

Americans may respect scientists, but they do not necessarily trust them, report Susan Fiske and Cydney Dupree from Princeton University in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Effective communicators, Fiske and Dupree say, have to be regarded by the public as both capable and warm — meaning both trustworthy and friendly.

They conducted an online survey of some 100 adults in the US to gauge how the respondents viewed 42 different professions, including scientists, on those scales.

High-warmth and high-competence professions, as judged by the respondents, include nurses, teachers, and doctors, while low-warmth and low-competence professions include prostitutes, garbage collectors, and fast-food workers.

Scientists and researchers fall in the low-warmth, high-competence quadrant, alongside lawyers, chief executive officers, and accountants, Fiske and Dupree report. This quadrant, they add, includes the "envied" professions and people have mixed emotional responses such as admiration and resentment toward these professions.

"Scientists have earned the respect of Americans, but not necessarily their trust," Fiske says in a statement. "But this gap can be filled by showing concern for humanity and the environment. Rather than persuading, scientists may better serve citizens by discussing, teaching, and sharing information to convey trustworthy intentions."