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Public Attitudes About Polarized Science: Evolution, Climate Change, Zika, and GMOs | Annual Meeting 2017 Session

Many positive societal outcomes depend on the public’s ability to incorporate the best available scientific evidence into their decision-making. However, this positive role for science in public life is often affected by complex relationships between societal norms, cultural values, and science literacy. As a result, there are large gaps between scientific consensus -- e.g., about evolution and human-caused global warming -- and what lay publics believe about these matters. One approach to this issue has been the knowledge-deficit hypothesis, which suggests that better educating the public will increase their reliance on scientific evidence; but this approach has faced a number of criticisms. Data from public opinion surveys show that for some issues, such as climate change, individuals who are most science-literate are the most likely to be polarized. Does this mean that there is no role for knowledge in increasing public reliance on scientific evidence? This session brings together varied perspectives on the ideal goals of science communication to critically examine the knowledge-deficit hypothesis, providing evidence that there is still a role for increasing public understanding in advancing science policy. Speakers will also explore the complex relationships between factors such as science literacy, cultural values, ideology, and curiosity on the public agreement with scientific consensus.

Organizer: Matthew H. Slater, Bucknell University

Co-Organizer: Deena Weisberg, University of Pennsylvania

Discussant: Dietram A. Scheufele, University of Wisconsin, Madison


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