Trust me, I'm a doctor16 Mar 2017 …but don’t trust me if I’m an economist - that’s the clear message from a YouGov poll last month:
Note that the question asked is not just “do you trust them”, it’s “do you trust them when they talk about their field of expertise”. That the score is so low for economists is pretty damning.
I grabbed the YouGov data to have a look at what groups were driving the lack of trust in economists. It’s bad news:
Is it too much to expect the public to trust a group of experts on as complicated and nuanced a subject as economics? Science has one big similarity to economics which is relevant here: it calls on its practitioners to communicate the results of complicated models to a non-specialised audience and to policymakers. Science has its own share of contentious issues (at least they’re contentious to some): nuclear power, genetically modified food, vaccines, and climate change. So do people trust scientists? The short answer is overwhelmingly yes:
This is far from a perfect comparison. One of the arguments I’ve heard about the difference is that most non-experts would not find fault with what an expert said on, say, supersymmetry, but would find fault when the topic relates to their daily life, particularly if it is contrary to that individual’s personal experience. Perhaps there’s something in that. A bigger problem is that economics is a lot more politicised than science in general, and involvement with politics seems to be a good indicator for a poor net trust score in the first plot. There are also fewer certainties in economics, which muddies the waters. All that said, economics as a profession could undoubtedly do better and make up some of the gap. I think emulating some of the tactics of science communication could go some way in doing this.