Consensus seems to exist among science scholars and policy makers on the necessity to involve the public in science and technology decision making processes In science policy-making circles, it is taken for granted that specific participation mechanisms (such as consensus conferences) have to be put in place to iallow citizens to express their views on science and technology related issues. The impact of the media on public involvement and public opinion on these issues is generally considered minor, although no empirical data supports these claims. Since media has been shown to have an impact on political participation in general, it seems however worthwhile to investigate what role the media might play in promoting, or limiting, public involvement in science affairs.

Using agricultural biotechnology as a case study, this paper examines the impact of media use on feelings of efficacy in the context of science-related issues. Efficacy is usually defined as “the feeling that one is capable of influencing the decision- making process” (Goel, 1980, p.127). Based on the responses to a mailed survey to a representative sample of 1,500 residents of New York State, we examine the extent to which the media makes people feel confident in participating in science and technology decision-making, when the effects of education, gender, and age, are controlled for. We examine the potential mediating effects of knowledge, institutional trust and attitudes toward science. Initial findings of a regression path analysis suggest that newspapers and television play a crucial role in promoting feelings of efficacy for science affairs. Attention to news related to agricultural biotechnology in the newspaper increases feelings of efficacy for scientific decision, directly, but also indirectly by impacting knowledge about scientific issues. Contrary to common assumptions, attitudes toward science and trust in institutions providing scientific information are not related to feelings of efficacy.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Media and scientific citizenship
Exploring media effects on feelings of efficacy for science-related issues

Bruce Lewenstein   University of Wisconsin-Madison

Dominique Brossard   University of Wisconsin-Madison

Consensus seems to exist among science scholars and policy makers on the necessity to involve the public in science and technology decision making processes In science policy-making circles, it is taken for granted that specific participation mechanisms (such as consensus conferences) have to be put in place to iallow citizens to express their views on science and technology related issues. The impact of the media on public involvement and public opinion on these issues is generally considered minor, although no empirical data supports these claims. Since media has been shown to have an impact on political participation in general, it seems however worthwhile to investigate what role the media might play in promoting, or limiting, public involvement in science affairs.

Using agricultural biotechnology as a case study, this paper examines the impact of media use on feelings of efficacy in the context of science-related issues. Efficacy is usually defined as “the feeling that one is capable of influencing the decision- making process” (Goel, 1980, p.127). Based on the responses to a mailed survey to a representative sample of 1,500 residents of New York State, we examine the extent to which the media makes people feel confident in participating in science and technology decision-making, when the effects of education, gender, and age, are controlled for. We examine the potential mediating effects of knowledge, institutional trust and attitudes toward science. Initial findings of a regression path analysis suggest that newspapers and television play a crucial role in promoting feelings of efficacy for science affairs. Attention to news related to agricultural biotechnology in the newspaper increases feelings of efficacy for scientific decision, directly, but also indirectly by impacting knowledge about scientific issues. Contrary to common assumptions, attitudes toward science and trust in institutions providing scientific information are not related to feelings of efficacy.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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