Maybe we should trust the experts after all

Well read.
Well read.
Image: Reuters/Russell Boyce
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“People in this country have had enough of experts,” pro-Brexit minister Michael Gove famously proclaimed just before Britain voted to quit the EU, defying the warnings of economists, analysts, and other professional forecasters. A central conceit of many populist campaigns is that the ordinary voter’s common sense, however derived, outweighs any naysaying by eggheads in their ivory towers.

Where has that got us?

For 18 years, communications group Edelman has been measuring public trust in people and institutions. Its latest survey, which polled more than 33,000 people in 28 countries, found a “resurgence of expert voices,” with respondents saying technical experts, industry analysts, CEOs, and the like were seen as more credible than in the previous year. This will go over well among the elite crowd gathered for this week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, where the report is revealed each year.

Mind you, people still have a high opinion of themselves, with a majority of respondents (54%) citing “a person like yourself” as very or extremely credible. Even so, the share of people maintaining this view dropped to an all-time low in Edelman’s long-running research.

The biggest gain in credibility in the latest survey was for—ahem—journalists.

The public’s trust in the media is emblematic of the general warming toward expertise over the past year. A majority of the public distrust the media in 22 of the 28 countries surveyed, but this headline finding masks an important detail: A big gap in trust has opened up between “journalism” and “platforms.” (Platforms are defined as social media and search engines.)

As Facebook reckons with its role as a conduit for fake news and Twitter comes to grip with partisan bot armies, public trust in the big social-media platforms has eroded quickly. “Misinformation has become the seminal issue of our day,” Edelman notes.

Trust in platforms fell in 21 of 28 countries surveyed, a major factor in the overall drop in trust in “media.” By contrast, there was a double-digit increase in the perceived credibility of professional journalists in 20 of 28 countries polled.

But before hacks break out the bubbly, consider that even after recent gains journalists are the second-least trusted group among the general public, with just 39% of people considering them credible. Still it could be worse—they could be politicians, who fell last in the rankings with just 35% of people putting their faith in the things they say.