Trust in researchers and researchers' statements in large carnivore conservation
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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1. Human–wildlife interactions occur when humans and wildlife overlap in the same landscapes. Due to the growing human population, the number of interactions will continue to increase, and in some cases, develop further into social conflicts. Conflicts may occur between people disagreeing about wildlife conservation or arguing over which wildlife management measures should be taken. Social conflicts between humans are based on different attitudes, values and land-use aspirations. The success of solving these social conflicts strongly depends on building trust between the public, stakeholders, authorities and researchers, as trust is fundamental to all communication and dialogue. 2. Here we have examined how trust in large carnivore research differs within a geographically stratified sample of the Norwegian population. The comprehensive survey, including 2,110 respondents, allows us to explore how people perceive factual statements about large carnivores depending on the source of these statements. Specifically, the respondents were given multiple statements and asked to judge them in terms of meaning and authenticity depending on whether the statements were made by a politician, the Norwegian farmers' association, the Norwegian Fish and Game association or a large carnivore researcher. Based on the variations in perceptions, we inferred that trust in large carnivore researchers and their research results varied with people's attitudes, values and direct experience of large carnivores. 3. In general, respondents perceived 60% of the statements to be genuine when given no information of who had made them. Although this increased to 75% when informed that the statements were made by a large carnivore researcher, there was still a 25% probability that the statement was perceived as manipulative or political. Age, environmental values and negative experiences of carnivores increased the probability of perceiving research statements as manipulative or political. People living in areas with high proportions of hunters showed particularly polarized views, either more strongly perceiving the statements as political, or in contrast as research. 4. This study provides a novel perspective in understanding the role trust plays in social conflicts related to human–wildlife interactions.