Values in environmental research: Citizens’ views of scientists who acknowledge values

Last modified: 
November 2, 2017 - 12:16am
Type: Journal Article
Year of publication: 2017
Date published: 10/2017
Authors: Kevin Elliott, Aaron McCright, Summer Allen, Thomas Dietz
Journal title: PLOS ONE
Volume: 12
Issue: 10
Pages: e0186049

Scientists who perform environmental research on policy-relevant topics face challenges when communicating about how values may have influenced their research. This study examines how citizens view scientists who publicly acknowledge values. Specifically, we investigate whether it matters: if citizens share or oppose a scientist’s values, if a scientist’s conclusions seem contrary to or consistent with the scientist’s values, and if a scientist is assessing the state of the science or making a policy recommendation. We conducted two 3x2 factorial design online experiments. Experiment 1 featured a hypothetical scientist assessing the state of the science on the public-health effects of exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA), and Experiment 2 featured a scientist making a policy recommendation on use of BPA. We manipulated whether or not the scientist expressed values and whether the scientist’s conclusion appeared contrary to or consistent with the scientist’s values, and we accounted for whether or not subjects’ values aligned with the scientist’s values. We analyzed our data with ordinary least squares (OLS) regression techniques. Our results provide at least preliminary evidence that acknowledging values may reduce the perceived credibility of scientists within the general public, but this effect differs depending on whether scientists and citizens share values, whether scientists draw conclusions that run contrary to their values, and whether scientists make policy recommendations.

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