HomeOpinionWhy do people have different attitudes towards scientific evidence?

Why do people have different attitudes towards scientific evidence?

A survey of more than 2,000 adults in the UK has uncovered the possible pitfalls of science communication.

For years, researchers have focused on what people know about science in the belief that “knowing science is loving it”. But people who think they know science actually do you know science new research published Jan. 24 in the open access journal PLOS Biology, Christina fonseca from the Genetic Society of Great Britain; Lawrence Hirst of the Milner Center for Evolution, University of Bath, UK; and colleagues find that people with strong attitudes tend to believe that they understand science, while neutral people are less self-confident. Overall, the study found that people with strong negative attitudes towards science tended to be overconfident about their level of understanding.

Whether it’s vaccines, climate change, or genetically modified food, science that matters to society can provoke harsh and oppositional attitudes. Understanding how to communicate science requires understanding why people can have such different attitudes about the same basic science. A new study surveyed more than 2,000 British adults and asked them both their attitudes towards science and their belief in their own understanding. Several previous analyzes have shown that people with negative attitudes towards science tend to have relatively low textbook knowledge but strongly believe in their own understanding. Building on this understanding, the team sought to ask whether strong self-confidence underlies all strong attitudes.

The team focused on genetics and asked questions about attitudes such as: “Many claims about the benefits of modern genetics are greatly exaggerated.” People can say how much they agree or disagree with the statement. They were also asked about how well they thought they understood the science: “When you hear the term DNA, how would you rate your understanding of what the term means?” All individuals scored from zero (they know they don’t understand) to one (they are sure they understand). The team found that people with extremist views – both strongly supportive and strongly anti-scientific – had very high self-confidence in their understanding, while those who responded objectively did not.

The team suggests that psychologically this makes sense: to have a strong opinion, you must strongly believe that your understanding of the underlying facts is correct. The current team can replicate previous results by finding that people with the most negative disposition also tend to not have high textbook knowledge. In contrast, those who are more accepting of science believe they understand it and give good marks to truth (true/false) questions in textbooks.

While scientific knowledge is thought to be the most important for scientific literacy, science communication focuses on transferring knowledge from scientists to society. However, this approach can fail and backfire in some cases. This study suggests that a better strategy might be to work at resolving inconsistencies between what people know and what they think they know.

Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith, president of the Genetic Society and co-author of the study, comments: “Overcoming some people’s negative attitudes towards science probably involves deconstructing what they think they know about science and replacing it with a more accurate understanding. It’s quite difficult.”

Hirst concludes: “Why are some people strongly committed to science while others are more neutral? We found that strong attitudes, both for and against, are supported by one’s strong confidence in one’s knowledge of science.” Source

Source: Port Altele

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