Investigation of Public Trust in Science in Connection with Views about Tentative Nature of Science and Epistemological Beliefs

Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Science Education

First Advisor

William W. Cobern, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Betty Adams, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Ramakrishna Guda, Ph.D.


Epistemological beliefs, nature of science, preservice teachers, trust in science, underaduate science students, US public


Trust in science is contested in everyday discourse and decision-making. Science education research and instruction must delve into and contribute to enhancing public trust in science. In this context, nature of science (NOS), and epistemological beliefs (EBs) emerge as closely related research areas highlighting the tentative NOS and uncertain aspects of knowledge, which can potentially influence trust in science. In a series of three interrelated studies, this research explores the public trust in science in relation to NOS views and EBs.

The first study emphasizes the role of science education in building trust among undergraduate chemistry students. It assesses the impact of a teaching intervention focusing on the durable NOS. Although the intervention yielded improvements over control conditions, it did not significantly alter overall trust in scientific knowledge. However, positive correlations emerged between trust, NOS views and commitment to accuracy. While EBs about certainty of knowledge displayed a negative correlation with trust. Notably, no correlation was observed between views about tentative NOS and EBs.

The second study highlights the influential position of educators in nurturing trust in science. It explores the preservice teachers’ trust in science relative to their NOS views and EBs. The same intervention as in the first study was administered, which did not substantially impact trust or commitment to accuracy among preservice teachers. Nonetheless, notable distinctions arose between treatment and control groups, indicating a stronger connection of trust with commitment to accuracy, NOS views and EBs in the former.

The third study examines the societal ramifications of trust in science delving into variations across three contexts (health, industry, and climate change) and probing factors influencing trust, including personal factors and acceptance of innovation. The study involved 254 US participants recruited through Mechanical Turk. The findings revealed a higher trust in and acceptance of innovation in health compared with the other two contexts. NOS views and EBs were determinants of trust in health but not in industry or climate change contexts. Additionally, political affiliation, gender and religiosity impacted trust in climate change, with Democrats, females, and non-religious exhibiting higher trust than Republican, male and strongly religious counterparts. None of the personal factors influenced trust in industry or health contexts. Overall, these studies underscore the complex nature of trust in science and offer valuable insight for science education research and practice, societal decision-making, and science communications.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Abstract Only

Restricted to Campus until


This document is currently not available here.