07 Jun UW-Madison researchers say science takes back seat to values in stem cell debate
Madison, Wis. – In a finding that researchers found surprising, the public’s attitudes about embryonic stem cell research appear to be shaped more by things other than an understanding of science.
Writing in a recent issue of the International Journal of Public Opinion, a team of three communications researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison reports that for many people, scientific knowledge has an “almost negligible” impact on how people view stem cell research.
The researchers, two professors and a graduate student, used national public opinion research to analyze how public attitudes are shaped about stem cell research, nanotechnology, and other controversial scientific matters.
Dietram Scheufele, a UW-Madison professor of life sciences communication and one of the paper’s authors, said people accepted the idea that more knowledge is good, but that consensus does not help build support for the science.
“The data show that no, it doesn’t,” Scheufele said in the paper. “It does for some groups, but definitely not for others.”
Scheufele and colleagues Dominique Brossard, a UW-Madison professor of journalism and mass communication, and graduate student Shirley Ho found that religious values or deference to scientific authority is more important than scientific knowledge. Values are particularly important when it comes to stem cells as those who described themselves as religious were unaffected by such knowledge, while those who said they are less religious were influenced more by their views of the research.
“It is not about providing religious audiences with more scientific information,” Scheufele said. “In fact, many of them are already highly informed about stem cell research, so more information makes little difference in terms of influencing public support.”
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