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Why the great interest in social trust now? Many have concluded that there is a problem in modern societies regarding the communication of risk. To date the outcomes of the various risk communication programmes implemented in Europe and the US have been less effective than hoped by their planners. The public often is hostile to the local siting of waste incinerators and nuclear waste dumps, a reaction that has not been influenced by the implementation of risk communication programmes (Adler and Pittle 1984; Cvetkovich et al 1986; Slovic and MacGregor 1994). In part such responses might be attributable to the practical problems associated with the lack of funding of risk communi­ cation programmes and, from this, failure to conduct proper evaluations (Kasperson and Palmlund 1987; Chess et al 1995a and b). Due account must also be taken of the inability of practitioners to understand that they have to work together with the public rather than simply ‘educate’ them (Fischhoff 1995; Leiss 1996). Researchers, frustrated by the lack of both practical and academic success of the various risk communication initiatives, have tried to identify underlying conceptual reasons why these programmes have failed. Among the factors currently receiving the greatest attention is trust.