The more expert you are, the more you should say “I don’t know” what you don’t know.


The new coronavirus discovered in December 2019 was initially an unknown virus, so it was common to see experts and academics appearing on TV and other media saying, “I don’t know for sure yet.”
Some people feel uneasy when an expert who has been conducting research in a particular field for many years says, “I don’t know.”
However, various studies have shown that such experts are more trustworthy.

Why we trust experts – even when they admit they don’t know the answer

The pandemic of the new coronavirus has once again highlighted how a lack of trust in science can sometimes lead to serious consequences.

For example, one study conducted in the United States, the country most severely affected by the pandemic, found that “trust in science is an important factor in making decisions about whether to be vaccinated.

According to Erik Gustafsson, a psychologist at the University of Portsmouth in the UK, people’s trust in science depends on three things: perceived “expertise,” “compassion,” and “integrity.

Of the three, “expertise” and “compassion” are based on a German study published in February 2022.

The study, which was conducted on a total of more than 900 people on four occasions, in September 2019, before the pandemic, and in April, May, and November 2020, during the pandemic, found that trust in science increased significantly with the pandemic.

The main factor was positive belief in the expertise of scientists, according to the study.

On the other hand, the main factor that reduced trust in science was the perception that scientists lacked consideration and compassion for society because of their dependence on research funders. Therefore, the authors of the paper concluded, “To counter the discrediting slander, it may be important to emphasize the purpose, interests, and values of scientists.”

And one of the factors of sincerity that leads to a sense of trust is, not surprisingly, uncertainty, or lack of clarity.

It is generally believed that uncertainty tarnishes one’s image.

Therefore, when experts provide information about a pandemic, or when university spokespersons report the results of their research in articles, it often occurs that definitive statements are made as if there is no uncertainty.

However, recent research has shown that uncertainty in an expert’s statements does not necessarily lead to distrust.

A 2018 study analyzing the impact of an advisor’s confidence on listeners confirmed that while confident and assertive advisors were more favorably evaluated, when asked to choose which advice to follow, advisors who used a less assertive tone of voice, such as “likely,” were more likely to be chosen. Erik Gustafsson and his colleagues found that the advice of advisors who were less assertive, such as “likely” was more likely to be chosen.

Erik Gustafsson commented on the results of the study: “In many cases, people value integrity and are willing to trust someone who can admit that they don’t have a clear answer.

In other words, admitting that you don’t know something or that you are wrong has no negative impact on trust and can even be beneficial.