Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Deference toward scientific authority ... spillover effects for nano?

When it comes to forming opinions on controversial scientific issues, Americans often rely on a strong deference to the views of the scientific community, according to a study co-authored by a University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher published in the current issue of the International Journal of Public Opinion Research.
"Dominique Brossard, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, says a random survey of 1,500 New York state residents shows they lean heavily on scientists as they form opinions on agricultural biotechnology.

In fact, for many citizens, deference to scientific authority serves as a convenient shortcut that replaces information from mass media or a technical knowledge of issues such as genetically engineered foods."

(Click here for the UW news release.)

What's especially interesting about Brossard's findings is the idea that this deference is developed over long periods of time, and that past media coverage of GMOs and stem cell research may have cultivated a sense of deference (or a lack thereof) among different issue-publics that will end up spilling over into the debate over nanotech and other emerging technologies. This would certainly be consistent with the findings we reported recently about deference toward scientific authority being a key predictor of nano attitudes (see Lee & Scheufele, 2006 under Recent Publications in the info bar over on the right).