Scientific information largely ignored when forming opinions about stem cell research

June 6, 2008

When forming attitudes about embryonic stem cell research, people are influenced by a number of things. But understanding science plays a negligible role for many people.

That's the surprising finding from a team of University of Wisconsin-Madison communications researchers who have spent the past two years studying public attitudes toward embryonic stem cell research. Reporting in the most recent issue of the International Journal of Public Opinion, the researchers say that scientific knowledge - for many citizens - has an almost negligible effect on how favorably people regard the field.

"More knowledge is good - everybody is on the same page about that. But will that knowledge necessarily help build support for the science?" says Dietram Scheufele, a UW-Madison professor of life sciences communication and one of the paper's three authors. "The data show that no, it doesn't. It does for some groups, but definitely not for others."

Along with Dominique Brossard, a UW-Madison professor of journalism and mass communication, and graduate student Shirley Ho, Scheufele used national public opinion research to analyze how public attitudes are formed about controversial scientific issues such as nanotechnology and stem cells. What they have found again and again is that knowledge is much less important than other factors, such as religious values or deference to scientific authority.

In the case of stem cells, values turn out to be key, says Scheufele. For respondents who reported that religion played a strong role in their lives, scientific knowledge had no effect on their attitudes toward stem cell research. But for those who claimed to be less religious, understanding the science was linked to more positive views of the research.

"Highly religious audiences are different from less religious audiences. They are looking for different things, bringing different things to the table," explains Scheufele. "It is not about providing religious audiences with more scientific information. In fact, many of them are already highly informed about stem cell research, so more information makes little difference in terms of influencing public support. And that's not good or bad. That's just what the data show."

On the other hand, a value system held by a much smaller portion of the American public works in just the opposite direction. The attitudes of individuals who are deferential to science - who tend to trust scientists and their work - are influenced by their level of scientific understanding.

Overall, says Brossard, "more understanding doesn't always change attitudes. A lot depends on people's values. And those values need to be considered carefully when we communicate with the public about these issues."

Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison

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4.2 / 5 (5) Jun 06, 2008
"That's the surprising finding..." Are you kidding me? How is it surprising? Do they not read the news? We still have people that insist the earth is 6000 years old. How do you expect these people to grasp stem cells, cloning, and evolution?
4 / 5 (4) Jun 06, 2008
"For respondents who reported that religion played a strong role in their lives, scientific knowledge had no effect..."

Why not just say, "Highly religious people are generally immune to, or lacking, logic, rational thinking and most high level brain functions." Why do we base policy on what these people want anymore? Our court system is already becoming faith-based. Can we leave scientists to be scientists and preachers to be preachers? Scientists don't get to stand up in church and argue history during a Genesis sermon, let's keep the thumpers out of the lab.
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 06, 2008
I agree Glis.
2.2 / 5 (6) Jun 06, 2008
Hey atheists, try reading the entire article instead of just the paragraph you took out of context

"It is not about providing religious audiences with more scientific information. In fact, many of them are already highly informed about stem cell research, so more information makes little difference in terms of influencing public support.
3.3 / 5 (3) Jun 06, 2008
I didn't see anyone claiming to be an atheist. Try reading the posts before taking them out of context. Sorry to poke fun at your fragile belief system.
2 / 5 (3) Jun 06, 2008
Not every spiritual person has a fragile belief system. Anyone who understands both science and religion can tell you that the two go hand in hand. How can educated people be so ignorant of eachother's chosen paths?
3.8 / 5 (4) Jun 06, 2008
Science and religion go hand in hand? If so, why are the more esteemed scientists, such as the National Academy of Sciences unlikely to believe in the big daddy in the sky? Scientific theories are based on empirical evidence often in conflict with intuition (quantum mechanics). Religion is based on intuition often in conflict with empirical evidence. Religions should use scientific method. The result given the evidence, would likely be extinction. -RAMEN
1 / 5 (3) Jun 07, 2008
Those who ignore the spiritual side of our
humanity are only seeing half the equation.
We need to hear the voices of those who value
ethics and morality as well as those based on
science and logic. If we had done so in the
early part of the 20th century the excesses and
ghastly social policies of eugenics would not
have gotten the foothold it did among intellectuals.
4 / 5 (2) Jun 07, 2008
The excesses of religion, non-religion, and all other "ideals", philosophies, jihads, crusades, etc. are handily neutralized by free, representative government with guarantees of basic rights for every citizen written into law (provided that such government hasn't been corrupted/compromised). What do the Inquisition, Nazi Germany and Stalin's Russia all have in common? They were all authoritarian, with all power vested in a single person or small group of individuals. Authoritarian regimes are inevitably destructive. Whether they're run by priests or scientists, capitalists or commies, someone must be "removed" for the society to achieve "perfection."
But now the world is getting too small to hold all the possible human futures we are considering. So many want the future to belong only to them. But how is this possible in a world of exponentially expanding potential futures?
This is where a new frontier is needed, room for everyone to create their own future just as they want it. Think "space."
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 07, 2008
Science and religion certainly do NOT go hand in hand. What an absurd statement.
5 / 5 (1) Jun 08, 2008

Science Counts Negligibly In Attitudes Re ESCR


Why is this a "Surprising finding" ?


What does an ethical-moral attitude have to do with science?
We all are products of the "energy constrained in Earth's biosphere". We all are "temporary self-replicable constrained-energy genetic systems that support and maintain Earth's biosphere by maintenance of genes". These are our origin and destiny.
Ethics-morals are human artifacts, components of human culture, which like cultures of ALL organisms is one of our biological attributes. Humans developed ethics-morals as one of their survival means, as guide and rules for inter-humans cooperation, as intra- and inter- organisms cooperation are the base survival format of life starting since and with Earth's primal genes.
Ethics-morals are human phenotypic artifacts. Each human phenotype tends to value its own survival more than that of other human phenotypes. Some of us bear in mind nature's example, the inter-coopperation in our body of 10^13 human cells with 10^14 non-human cells, and hold non-strictly phenotypic attitudes...this is partly the difference between Western and some other cultures...
Ethics-morals are human phenotypic each his own...

Dov Henis
5 / 5 (1) Jun 08, 2008
"They are looking for different things, bringing different things to the table"

That's a very polite way to describe epic ignorance.
5 / 5 (1) Jun 09, 2008
In sesponse to your statement, jim, I find the rules of Quantum mechanics to be especially complimentary to my spiritual way of thought. I dont see why all these scientists have a left- brained preconception of religion and spirituality. Do you think we actually believe in a huge old man with a beard sitting on a throne on a cloud in outer space? Or that the world "poofed" into existance over a period of 6 days? Some do, but anyone who chooses to find out for him or her self can find the truth buried in both science and spirituality. one interesting thing to note is that the original book of genesis in the bible can be interprited to describe the real story of creation the way scientists understand it. It is a cryptic way to describe the indescribable to the masses. it has served a purpose for the millions of people who will never learn of the big bang or the history of the earth, and any perversions of the messages out of the sacred texts are a product of the often feeble human mind. I think that a lot of scientists are too afraid to investigate all the proof of the universe being more than meets the eye, just the same as all the mainstream religious nuts are too afraid to contradict what thier preachers told them at childhood about the earth being 6000 years old! They all aught to be ashamed of themselves for ignoring the beauty and mystery of the universe.

After all, what could be a more magnificent and glorious accomplishment by mother nature/god/the universe/ or whatever you prefer, than to raise man "out of the dust of the earth" through the mysterious and awesome process of evolution?
not rated yet Jun 10, 2008
Many scientists believe religion and morals RESULTED from evolution, as a device to improve social cohesion and hence survival. So I have some difficulty understanding why it seems that many non-theists are so opposed to religion. If we are adapted to rely on a belief in a god to encourage behavior that is optimal for the herd and therefore the gene, it seems to me that whining about how "it's not true" is beside the point. It may not be true, but it is almost certainly necessary.

The point is that the idea of a higher power has been part of humanity for millenia, and if we suddenly take away something for which we are so very adapted (if we even could), it probably would have some serious unintended consequences for society.

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