Paul Kedrosky recently linked to a list of trusted and distrusted industries prepared by Harris Interactive.  His comment?

Trusting companies always strikes me as a largely indefensible anthropomorphic exercise in [the] first place.

But compare these two lists, and you start to see that people’s institutional trust isn’t just a matter of projecting their trust in individuals within a given profession onto the institution/industry.

71% of the Harris Interactive respondents don’t think hospitals are generally honest and trustworthy.  Yet only 5% of the Gallup respondents think that doctors have low or very low honesty and ethicality, and only 1% think of nurses as dishonest or unethical.  Hospitals are devious, untrustworthy places… filled with honest, fair-dealing employees.  Same with filling a prescription:  Only 11% of Harris respondents would trust a statement from the pharmaceutical industry, but 71% of Gallup panelists think pharmacists are honest and ethical.

These contradictions are found in a wide range of places.  Professors are highly trusted (PDF, see pg. 5) but trust in universities has declined precipitously (PDF, see pg. 588).

I think people have better judgment than Paul gives them credit for – they’re not just anthropomorphizing organizations.  Their judgment reflects their recognition that organizations are more than the sum of their parts, and are influenced by powerful forces beyond the aegis of the individual.  A company made of trustworthy, honest folks can behave in untrustworthy, dishonest ways, and institutional trust is more complex than simply aggregating personal trust.

Photo:  lgorlando