Trust Scholars

2021 Trust Scholars Reflect Cross-Disciplinary Commitment

The second class of Trust Scholars at the Consortium on Trust in Media and Technology reflect our guiding principle: this isn’t just a news problem.

The work of these scholars ranges from examining the ways humans interact with robotic technology to understanding how our always-on information culture degrades emotional intelligence and judgment. The scholars represent UF’s College of Journalism and Communications (CJC), College of Medicine (COM), Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS).

The five Trust Scholars, appointed for an 18-month term, join our inaugural class of 12 scholars. The Trust Scholars will work to explore collaborative research opportunities and to develop public scholarship aimed at non-academic audiences. The Consortium provides $5,000 in funds to support their research.

Here’s a summary of what the 2021-22 Trust Scholars are working on:

Lauri M. Baker

Lauri Baker is an associate professor of agricultural communication in the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication at IFAS. Her research focuses on understanding how scientists can communicate strategically with the public and build trust in science. Since February 2020, she has been the lead researcher in a survey series on the impact of Covid-19 on the American public and agricultural businesses.

As a Trust Scholar, Dr. Baker will look at public trust of science related to agricultural innovation. She’ll examine the use of artificial intelligence to enhance the traceability and sustainability of food. She’ll also conduct research on trust as it relates to the use of CRISPR, a technology that can be used to edit genes, in both edible and non-edible horticultural products. Her research will take a 360-degree approach to pair self-reported survey responses with online data related to discussion of these issues in public forums. This approach could alter the way research is conducted in the future to understand trust simultaneously in private and public forums.

Carma Bylund

Carma Bylund is a professor and Associate Chair of Education at the College of Medicine’s Department of Health Outcomes and Bioinformatics. Dr. Bylund previously served as a Public Relations professor at the College of Journalism and Communications and a professor in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the College of Medicine.

As a Trust Scholar, Dr. Bylund will examine how the trust patients place in online health information and their clinicians intersects with cancer and vaccines. She’ll examine how issues of trust in online information and physicians influence the effectiveness of online intervention for cancer caregivers, with an emphasis on improving caregivers e-health literacy to enable them to critically evaluate online cancer information.

Dr. Bylund will also explore the role of trust as it relates to HPV vaccines and, potentially, the Covid-19 vaccine.

Leslie Paul Thiele

Leslie Paul Thiele teaches political theory in CLAS’s Department of Political Science and serves as Director of Sustainability Studies and Director of the Center for Adaptive Innovation, Resilience, Ethics and Science. His research focuses on the relationship between three growing trends in the digital age: Cognitive deskilling, the propagation of disinformation on social media, and levels of distrust among American citizens.

Cognitive deskilling speaks to our ever-increasing dependence on digital technologies. As digital technologies replace many offline activities, they can enfeeble cognitive and social capabilities – including emotional intelligence and judgment. In short, digital upgrading bears the prospect of human downgrading and, via the impacts of rising disinformation, the undermining of civic trust and democratic prospects.

As a Trust Scholar, Dr. Thiele’s primary research objective is to explore the mechanisms of cognitive deskilling and determine its impact on citizens’ assimilation of disinformation and their propensity for civic trust. Assuming his initial findings can be corroborated, his secondary research objective will be to investigate avenues for reversing these pernicious trends.

Kasey Windels

Kasey Windels is an assistant professor of advertising at UF’s College of Journalism and Communication. Her research interests center on the advertising agency itself, with a specific interest on creativity within the advertising agency.

As a Trust Scholar, Dr. Windels will be examining whether consumers trust advertisements written by AI more or less than advertisements written by humans. Some research suggests advertisements written by humans should be better trusted and more effective. Research on machine-automated journalism has found that human-written stories are found to be more credible than automated news. Does the same hold for advertising, where consumer expectations may be quite different? Dr. Windels’ study will compare consumer’s perceptions of human-developed digital advertising and machine-automated digital advertising,

Kun Xu

Kun Xu is the Assistant Professor in Emerging Media at the College of Journalism and Communications. Dr. Xu’s research is dedicated to understanding people’s social interactions both with and through emerging media technologies. His areas of focus include the ways people use social cues to interact with robotic technologies, how people use technology to sense virtual and augmented reality and how the evolution of media environments alters and shapes people’s trust in those technologies.

His work as a Trust Scholar will focus on the role played by social cues – gestures, voices, appearances, language styles – in how people respond to AI technologies. Dr. Xu will examine whether there are certain social cues that have more potential for evoking user trust. He’ll also examine how virtual cues generated through augmented reality interact with real-world cues in affecting the way people understand and judge physical spaces.

To read about the 2020-21 Trust Scholars, visit: