Keywords: epistemic trust, risk perception, social trust, perceived antagonism, risk communication, nuclear waste repository, voting intentions, Sweden, spent fuel, local referendum
Too much trust in (social) trust? The importance of epistemic concerns and perceived antagonism
Social trust has often been claimed to be an important determinant of perceived risk, a finding that, if true, has important consequences for risk communication. However, the empirical basis of the alleged relationship between social trust and risk perception is weak. Previous work has pointed to other facets of trust as being more important: trust in science and technology per se (epistemic trust) as well as belief in the existence of opposed interests and goals (antagonism). In the present paper, these notions are further developed and empirically tested on data on trust (social and epistemic), risk perception, attitudes, voting intentions, trust and antagonism in siting a local high-level nuclear waste repository. Data were obtained in the spring of 2005 from two Swedish municipalities where site investigations were being carried out in preparation for building a repository for spent nuclear fuel. It was found that social trust had less weight in perceived risk than epistemic trust and perceived antagonism. Similar results were obtained when the dependent variables were attitude to the repository, and intention to vote pro or con a local repository in a future local referendum on the issue. Implications of the findings for risk communication are discussed.