By Kristin E. Mathiesen, Magnus Barmoen, Kim Magnus Bærum and Maria Johansson
Lack of trust in science is an increased challenge worldwide, and during recent years, we have been heavily exposed to “alternative facts” and “fake news”. By using a geographically stratified survey in Norway, we wanted to examine how common people trusted or mistrusted large carnivore research and researchers. We presented research statements to 5 random persons in each municipality throughout the whole country, and asked whether they perceived these statements as manipulative, as conjecture, as political claim or as research claim. First, we did not inform our respondents who had made these claims and then we informed the respondents that the statements were communicated by a large carnivore researcher. Then we analyzed how far perceptions of the statements changed when respondents found out who had communicated the statements. There was a 60 % chance that common people perceived the statements as research without knowing who had made the statements, but this increased to 75 % when the statements were attributed to a large carnivore researcher. However, there was still a 25 % chance of interpreting this as a manipulative or political claim when told the statement was made by a large carnivore researcher. This mistrust in large carnivore researchers was mainly seen among older people, or among people that had experience of domestic animals like sheep being killed by carnivores. Areas with high hunter to non-hunter ratios were associated with an increased chance of interpreting the research results as either a research statement or a political statement when attributed to a researcher. People who trust research in general, or expressed positive values about nature, such as thinking that humans are part of nature and not set to dominate nature, revealed higher trust in researchers and their statements. In Norway, the abundance of large carnivores – brown bears, wolves, lynx and wolverines – create huge debates among people and stakeholders about conservation of these species. Research works as a knowledge provider for their management, and the concept of trust in research is crucial if research-based management is to succeed. We think that lack of trust in research may fuel human-wildlife conflict and make conservation of large carnivores an even bigger challenge than it is today.