“Trust this expert, beause he is an university professor”: A Content Analysis of the mediation of epistemic trustworthiness in German online reporting on Covid-19

Author: Petra Pansegrau – Bielefeld University, Germany


  • Tobias Toensfeuerborn – Bielefeld University, Germany

Scientific knowlede and and assessments by researchers take a central role in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, scientists are a key source of information and take a central role in the media coverage so that they can explain the circumstances of particular measures and recommendations and thus gain acceptance for them. A central challenge here is the need for a high degree of trust in scientists, which must be mediated by media coverage alongside scientific statements.

Our study examines the mediation of trust in scientists in German online reporting on Covid-19 between March and June 2020 using qualitative content analysis. In particular, we investigate how scientists who make statements about findings or recommendations in online articles are attributed trustworthiness there. Trustworthiness here has to be understood as an epistemic one, since it concerns the willingness to accept scientists’ statements. Therefore, our analysis is based on three dimensions of epistemic trusworthiness proposed by Hendriks et al. (2015): Expertise, integrity and benevolence. As their evaluation suggests, each of these dimensions has an influence on the assessment of an expert’s epistemic trustworthiness.

First results seem to suggest that German Covid-19 online reporting mainly uses strategies to convey epistemic trustworthiness that can be assigned to the dimension of expertise. These include references to academic degrees or positions at universities or research institutes. Aspects from the dimensions integrity and benevolence, on the other hand, are hardly ever found in our sample so far. Since our analysis is still in progress, these results are not yet final. However, they may highlight potential problems in communicating trustworthiness in the context of Covid-19 reporting, as two of three dimensions of trustworthiness seem to be neglected here.

Hendriks, Friederike, Dorothe Kienhues, and Rainer Bromme (2015). “Measuring Laypeople’s
Trust in Experts in a Digital Age: The Muenster Epistemic Trustworthiness Inventory (METI)”. In: PLOS ONE 10.10. Ed. by Jelte M. Wicherts, e0139309. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0139309.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Transformation