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Understanding public opinion in debates over biomedical research: looking beyond political partisanship to focus on beliefs about science and society.

Nisbet M, Markowitz EM - PLoS ONE (2014)

Bottom Line: Yet this focus on partisan differences tends to overlook the processes by which core beliefs about science and society impact public opinion and how these schema are often activated by specific frames of reference embedded in media coverage and popular discourse.Classifying respondents into four unique audience groups based on their beliefs about science and society, we additionally find that individuals within each of these groups split relatively evenly by partisanship but differ on other important dimensions.The implications for public engagement and future research on controversies related to biomedical science are discussed.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: American University, School of Communication, Washington, DC, United States of America.

ABSTRACT
As social scientists have investigated the political and social factors influencing public opinion in science-related policy debates, there has been growing interest in the implications of this research for public communication and outreach. Given the level of political polarization in the United States, much of the focus has been on partisan differences in public opinion, the strategies employed by political leaders and advocates that promote those differences, and the counter-strategies for overcoming them. Yet this focus on partisan differences tends to overlook the processes by which core beliefs about science and society impact public opinion and how these schema are often activated by specific frames of reference embedded in media coverage and popular discourse. In this study, analyzing cross-sectional, nationally representative survey data collected between 2002 and 2010, we investigate the relative influence of political partisanship and science-related schema on Americans' support for embryonic stem cell research. In comparison to the influence of partisan identity, our findings suggest that generalized beliefs about science and society were more chronically accessible, less volatile in relation to media attention and focusing events, and an overall stronger influence on public opinion. Classifying respondents into four unique audience groups based on their beliefs about science and society, we additionally find that individuals within each of these groups split relatively evenly by partisanship but differ on other important dimensions. The implications for public engagement and future research on controversies related to biomedical science are discussed.

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Views on science and society as a proportion of U.S adult population and by percentage favoring embryonic stem cell research.Unique audience segments relative to their views on the social implications of science and society were identified using principle components analysis, oblique rotation. Participants who scored high on scientific optimism and low on scientific reservations were categorized as “Scientific Optimists” (35.9% of respondents). Those who scored high on scientific reservations and low on scientific optimism were categorized as “Scientific Pessimists” (23.3% of sample). Respondents who scored high on both measures were categorized as “Conflicted” (24.6% of sample). Those who scored low on both measures were categorized as “Disengaged” (16.2% of sample). Size of the bubbles for each schema-related audience segment are proportional to the percentage of relevant respondents within the pooled, aggregated data sets (N = 8,105). To measure their views on embryonic stem cell research, respondents were asked: “On the whole, how much do you favor or oppose medical research that uses stem cells from human embryos - do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose this?” Source: Virginia Commonwealth University Life Sciences Surveys, 2002–2010. No survey was collected in 2009.
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pone-0088473-g001: Views on science and society as a proportion of U.S adult population and by percentage favoring embryonic stem cell research.Unique audience segments relative to their views on the social implications of science and society were identified using principle components analysis, oblique rotation. Participants who scored high on scientific optimism and low on scientific reservations were categorized as “Scientific Optimists” (35.9% of respondents). Those who scored high on scientific reservations and low on scientific optimism were categorized as “Scientific Pessimists” (23.3% of sample). Respondents who scored high on both measures were categorized as “Conflicted” (24.6% of sample). Those who scored low on both measures were categorized as “Disengaged” (16.2% of sample). Size of the bubbles for each schema-related audience segment are proportional to the percentage of relevant respondents within the pooled, aggregated data sets (N = 8,105). To measure their views on embryonic stem cell research, respondents were asked: “On the whole, how much do you favor or oppose medical research that uses stem cells from human embryos - do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose this?” Source: Virginia Commonwealth University Life Sciences Surveys, 2002–2010. No survey was collected in 2009.

Mentions: Table 3 presents the four segments based on respondents' views of science and society, highlighting their composition in terms of major demographic variables and their preferences regarding embryonic stem cell research. (These four segments were derived using the previously described principal components analysis.) Based on data from the pooled sample across years, Figure 1 plots each segment relative to their support for embryonic stem cell research. Bubbles represent the proportion of each segment within the population.


Understanding public opinion in debates over biomedical research: looking beyond political partisanship to focus on beliefs about science and society.

Nisbet M, Markowitz EM - PLoS ONE (2014)

Views on science and society as a proportion of U.S adult population and by percentage favoring embryonic stem cell research.Unique audience segments relative to their views on the social implications of science and society were identified using principle components analysis, oblique rotation. Participants who scored high on scientific optimism and low on scientific reservations were categorized as “Scientific Optimists” (35.9% of respondents). Those who scored high on scientific reservations and low on scientific optimism were categorized as “Scientific Pessimists” (23.3% of sample). Respondents who scored high on both measures were categorized as “Conflicted” (24.6% of sample). Those who scored low on both measures were categorized as “Disengaged” (16.2% of sample). Size of the bubbles for each schema-related audience segment are proportional to the percentage of relevant respondents within the pooled, aggregated data sets (N = 8,105). To measure their views on embryonic stem cell research, respondents were asked: “On the whole, how much do you favor or oppose medical research that uses stem cells from human embryos - do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose this?” Source: Virginia Commonwealth University Life Sciences Surveys, 2002–2010. No survey was collected in 2009.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

License
Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC3928253&req=5

pone-0088473-g001: Views on science and society as a proportion of U.S adult population and by percentage favoring embryonic stem cell research.Unique audience segments relative to their views on the social implications of science and society were identified using principle components analysis, oblique rotation. Participants who scored high on scientific optimism and low on scientific reservations were categorized as “Scientific Optimists” (35.9% of respondents). Those who scored high on scientific reservations and low on scientific optimism were categorized as “Scientific Pessimists” (23.3% of sample). Respondents who scored high on both measures were categorized as “Conflicted” (24.6% of sample). Those who scored low on both measures were categorized as “Disengaged” (16.2% of sample). Size of the bubbles for each schema-related audience segment are proportional to the percentage of relevant respondents within the pooled, aggregated data sets (N = 8,105). To measure their views on embryonic stem cell research, respondents were asked: “On the whole, how much do you favor or oppose medical research that uses stem cells from human embryos - do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose this?” Source: Virginia Commonwealth University Life Sciences Surveys, 2002–2010. No survey was collected in 2009.
Mentions: Table 3 presents the four segments based on respondents' views of science and society, highlighting their composition in terms of major demographic variables and their preferences regarding embryonic stem cell research. (These four segments were derived using the previously described principal components analysis.) Based on data from the pooled sample across years, Figure 1 plots each segment relative to their support for embryonic stem cell research. Bubbles represent the proportion of each segment within the population.

Bottom Line: Yet this focus on partisan differences tends to overlook the processes by which core beliefs about science and society impact public opinion and how these schema are often activated by specific frames of reference embedded in media coverage and popular discourse.Classifying respondents into four unique audience groups based on their beliefs about science and society, we additionally find that individuals within each of these groups split relatively evenly by partisanship but differ on other important dimensions.The implications for public engagement and future research on controversies related to biomedical science are discussed.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: American University, School of Communication, Washington, DC, United States of America.

ABSTRACT
As social scientists have investigated the political and social factors influencing public opinion in science-related policy debates, there has been growing interest in the implications of this research for public communication and outreach. Given the level of political polarization in the United States, much of the focus has been on partisan differences in public opinion, the strategies employed by political leaders and advocates that promote those differences, and the counter-strategies for overcoming them. Yet this focus on partisan differences tends to overlook the processes by which core beliefs about science and society impact public opinion and how these schema are often activated by specific frames of reference embedded in media coverage and popular discourse. In this study, analyzing cross-sectional, nationally representative survey data collected between 2002 and 2010, we investigate the relative influence of political partisanship and science-related schema on Americans' support for embryonic stem cell research. In comparison to the influence of partisan identity, our findings suggest that generalized beliefs about science and society were more chronically accessible, less volatile in relation to media attention and focusing events, and an overall stronger influence on public opinion. Classifying respondents into four unique audience groups based on their beliefs about science and society, we additionally find that individuals within each of these groups split relatively evenly by partisanship but differ on other important dimensions. The implications for public engagement and future research on controversies related to biomedical science are discussed.

Show MeSH