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Researchers Discuss Public Attitudes Toward Science at AAAS in Boston

Researchers from the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) presented communication research on public attitudes toward science, including genetically modified organisms and climate change, at the 2017 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston on February 16-20, 2017.

Postdoctoral fellow Asheley R. Landrum gave a talk about “The Curiosity-Deficit Hypothesis”  as part of a panel on “Public Attitudes About Polarized Science: Evolution, Climate Change, Zika, and GMOs.” In her abstract, Landrum says that “people seem to use their knowledge to better motivate and defend their preexisting viewpoints, leading more knowledgeable individuals to be even more polarized than the less knowledgeable ones.”  She continues, “Interestingly, however, we found one factor relevant to thinking and learning that does not seem to divide publics: curiosity.” Landrum will discuss two studies in which she and her colleagues “show not only that these polarization effects related to knowledge are not present when looking at curiosity, but that inspiring curiosity may actually protect against politically-motivated reasoning.”

See below for a video of the panel featuring Landrum, as well as APPC Distinguished Research Fellow Michael Weisberg and former APPC Visiting Scholar Dietram Scheufele.

APPC director Kathleen Hall Jamieson and APPC’s managing director of survey research Ken Winneg are co-authors of a poster being presented on the impact of the National Academy of Sciences’ consensus report on genetically engineered (GE) crops. The study, done in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Science, Media & the Public program, found that the NAS report released in May 2016 had an effect on media coverage, social media discussion, and public opinion surrounding GE crops.

The researchers found that the GE Crop report made social-media conversation about GMOs less pessimistic and more ambivalent; reduced the negativity surrounding the issue on Twitter; and temporarily shifted the focus from regulation and labeling to the health and safety of GMOs, areas covered in the report.  The study was based in part on three national surveys conducted by APPC in early 2016 and then immediately before and after the release of the GE report. Other authors on the poster, a collaboration with the Science, Media & the Public program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, are Christopher D. Wirz, Emily Howell, Dominique Brossard, Dietram A. Scheufele and Michael A. Xenos.

Postdoctoral fellow Ben Lyons presented the poster “Enduring Extremes: Polar Vortex, Drought, and Climate Change Beliefs,” co-authored with APPC postdoctoral fellow Ariel Hasell and APPC distinguished research fellow Natalie Jomini Stroud. The researchers found that people who had experienced extreme weather — polar vortex or drought — were more likely to believe that the Earth is warming and that there is a scientific consensus on this.