PERITIA: understanding and fostering trust in experts and expertise

  • 24 January 2024
  • Professor Maria Baghramian
  • Academic, Educational, Environmental, Health, Political, Social


As demonstrated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the role of expert advice in policy decisions can be a matter of great urgency, sometimes even life-and-death. In response to crises such as the pandemic and climate change, PERITIA, a multidisciplinary Europe-wide project led by UCD, sought to understand the pressing issue of public trust in scientific expertise, and the role of experts in policymaking. The team unpicked many of the nuanced factors that affect public trust in expertise, and they communicated their findings widely, via publications, events, policy documents, parliamentary presentations, deliberative mini publics, and educational materials, including podcasts and an online Trustworthiness Toolkit. Together, these efforts have reached more than 2 million people, informing public debate and helping foster trust in experts.

Research description

Experts play a crucial role in helping to inform policy decisions, whether they relate to our health, the climate, technology, infrastructure, energy, or any number of other important topics. Our world is increasingly reliant on specialised knowledge and scientific evidence, and trust in experts is crucial for development and wellbeing. However, deep uncertainties in the face of a multitude of crises, and anti-elite sentiments fanned by populist politicians, are casting doubt on the very idea of expertise.

PERITIA (Policy, Expertise and Trust in Action) was an EU-funded project that brought together a multidisciplinary consortium of 11 partner institutions from 9 European countries to investigate public trust in expertise. Although it was set up to explore this in the context of climate change, the team decided to also focus on the Covid-19 pandemic.

The project aimed to better understand the conditions that affect trust in (and the trustworthiness of) expert opinion, and to find practical applications for these findings. The project was carried out in three phases:

In phase 1, the team, led by Professor Baghramian, carried out research on the philosophical, ethical, psychological and social factors that underpin social trust in experts. They did so by organising work-in-progress project meetings, online public lectures, small-group workshops, and large-scale international conferences addressing the project’s specific question on the nature of trust, the conditions for being trustworthy, and the ethical implications of expertise.

In phase 2, the team tested the theoretical conclusions of phase 1 through a survey of over 10,000 people across 7 European countries, on attitudes towards experts and policymakers. The most positive finding was that levels of trust in science and scientists remain quite high in most countries surveyed, and in Ireland especially. This contrasted with low levels of trust in politicians and politics. The surveys were followed by an investigation of key indicators of trust and trustworthiness of experts through online experiments.

An important finding of these behavioural experiments was that shared social and political values can affect people’s decisions. For instance, trust in the expertise of social scientists is lower among those on the more conservative end of the political spectrum. The project also found that, in responding to the climate crisis, people’s prior attitudes or mindsets play an important role in their decision to engage with expert advice or to take mitigating action. Those with a fatalist attitude towards climate change pose a particular challenge to attempts to address it.

The findings emphasise the multidimensionality of trust in experts, a complex picture that is summarised in the PERITIA Trustworthiness Toolkit. The full quantitative findings and their analysis and policy guidelines are also available through the PERITIA Trust Hub.

Finally, phase 3 focused on direct societal engagement and impact. The team organised a wide range of events, largely involving citizens, and produced resources to share their findings and help foster legitimate trust in experts.

Research team and collaborators

  • UCD: Professor Maria Baghramian (Coordinator and Lead Investigator), Dr Jenny Knell (Project Manager), Dr Danielle Petherbridge (Philosophy), Dr Finbarr Brereton (Environmental Policy), Dr Shane Bergin (Education), Professor Rowland Stout (UCD)
  • Work Package Leaders: Daniel Kaiser (ALLEA), Professor Cathrine Holst (University of Oslo), Professor José van Dijck (Utrecht University), Dr Gloria Origgi (Institut Jean Nicod, CNRS), Dr Tiffany Morisseau (Strane), Professor Rowland Stout (UCD), Professor Bobby Duffy (Policy Institute, KCL), Professor Liam Delaney (LSE), Associate Professor Carlo Martini (Vita-Salute San Raffaele University), Tracey Brown (Sense about Science)
  • Advisory Board: Professors Onora O’Neill (Cambridge), Susan Owens (Cambridge), Judith Simon (University of Hamburg), Dan Sperber (CNRS), Christiane Woopen ( Cologne), Göran Hermerén (Lund),  David Farrell (UCD),  Heather Douglas (Michigan State),  Stephan Lewandowsky (Bristol),  Stathis Psillos (Athens)


  • Funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme, 2020-2023 (40 months)

Research impact

Social and educational impact

The team has undertaken an extensive programme of activities to engage with society at large, collectively reaching an audience of more than 2 million people. For instance, they held deliberative mini publics (events in which a diverse body of citizens is selected randomly to discuss an issue of public concern) in five countries on the topic of urban transport and climate change. These events established direct contact between scientists and the general public in countries such as Armenia, where there is little history or experience of holding  deliberative assemblies.

PERITIA’s findings have received extensive media coverage, with interviews, opinion pieces and reports in high-profile outlets such as RTÉ, Irish Times, Bloomberg, the Economist, BBC, and the Guardian.

Members of the team also produced two podcast series exploring crisis points of trust. The six-part podcast series The Trust Race, which is hosted by Dr Bergin and was the number 1 trending podcast in Ireland upon release, and has generated discussions in the national media and overseas about maintaining public trust in the face of global challenges.

In conjunction with the Irish Young Philosopher Awards, PERITIA also ran a Youth on Trust essay competition, empowering 13-17 year olds from across Europe to publicly express their views on trust in social and political life. 12 winners from four countries subsequently took part in a roundtable discussion in Brussels.

PERITIA’s research outputs were made accessible to the public through explanatory videos and the Trustworthiness Toolkit, which incorporates the results from the theoretical and empirical phases of the project to help people identify trustworthy experts and to debunk disinformation. The Trust Hub offers a space to investigate data on institutional trust, which is particularly useful to policymakers and the media.

Political impact

PERITIA maximised the policy dimensions of its findings by producing policy documents, briefing reports and working papers for policymakers at the European Commission and beyond. PERITIA project members – including Professors Baghramian, Duffy, Holst and van Dijck – have presented their findings to a range of policy and parliamentary groups (e.g. Professor Baghramian at Ireland’s National Counter Disinformation working group).

At the final public event in Brussels, “Research Insights for European Policymaking”, reports delivered at a roundtable co-hosted by the European Parliament’s Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA) and the European Science-Media Hub brought PERITIA researchers into dialogue with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation.

Health impact

An unanticipated but crucial impact of the project was on discussions of Covid-19 policy and vaccine hesitancy. PERITIA’s findings, reported internationally in major news outlets, indicated that a majority of the public across European countries have trust in expert medical advice, but not in politicians or official governmental accounts. The project also explored socially justified reasons for vaccine hesitancy, rooted in historic and structural injustices, thus adding nuance to a  complex topic. The impact of PERITIA’s work on Covid-19 was particularly evident in the reception of its public debates, lectures, and op-eds.

Academic impact

Through a wide range of academic publications, conferences, workshops, lectures, and interviews, the project has expanded the current understanding of the role of experts in policy decisions, and has provided insights on how expertise is defined and is influenced by social determinants. A notable achievement of PERITIA is its pioneering investigation of the role of social and traditional media in building or undermining trust in experts.

PERITIA has also advanced the philosophical understanding of trust in the public sphere through articles published in leading journals, and has fostered cross-disciplinary collaboration (for example with this wide-ranging peer-reviewed report on trust in science). The theoretical research has led to innovative empirical work informed by cross-disciplinary insights from philosophers, psychologists, and media and policy specialists. One notable example is the findings of an in-depth survey in seven European countries on trust and expertise, featured in numerous media reports and editorials.

Project website and social media

Research and policy outputs

  • 23 peer-reviewed articles, 6 journal  special issues, 4 books, 2 literature reviews, 2 podcast series, data from a major European survey, 3 international conferences, 10 workshops, and several policy brief and reports [all available on the project website]

Selected project outputs

Selected UCD academic publications

  • Baghramian, Maria & Croce, Michel 2020. Experts, Public Policy and the Question of Trust. In Michael Hannon & Jeroen De Ridder (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Political Epistemology. London, UK: Routledge. DOI: 10.4324/9780429326769-53
  • Torbjørn Gundersen, Donya Alinejad, T.Y. Branch, Bobby Duffy, Kirstie Hewlett, Cathrine Holst, Susan Owens, Folco Panizza, Silje Maria Tellmann, José van Dijck, Maria Baghramian, A New Dark Age? Truth, Trust, and Environmental Science. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 2022 47:1, 5-29. DOI: 10.1146/annurev-environ-120920-015909
  • Baghramian, Maria & Panizza, Silvia Caprioglio (2023). Skepticism and the Value of Distrust. Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy. DOI: 10.1080/0020174X.2022.2135821
  • Altanian, Melanie & Baghramian, Maria (2021). Themes from Testimonial Injustice dand Trust: Introduction to the Special Issue. International Journal of Philosophical Studies 29 (4):433-447. DOI: 10.1080/09672559.2021.1997400
  • Baghramian, Maria, Petherbridge, Danielle & Stout, Rowland (2020). Vulnerability and Trust: An Introduction. International Journal of Philosophical Studies 28 (5):575-582. DOI: 10.1080/09672559.2020.1855814
  • Baghramian, Maria & Martini, Carlo (2022). Questioning Experts and Expertise. London, UK: Routledge. DOI: 10.4324/9781003161851
  • Stout, Rowland (2022). Betrayal, Trust and Loyalty. International Journal of Philosophical Studies 30 (3):339-356 DOI: 10.1080/09672559.2022.21218923
  • Petherbridge, Danielle (2021). Recognition, Vulnerability and Trust. International Journal of Philosophical Studies 29 (1):1-23. DOI: 10.1080/09672559.2021.1885135
  • Baghramian, Maria, ed. (2023). Special Issue: The Ethics and Politics of Disagreement. International Journal of Philosophical Studies 31(3). URL: