Sunday, February 19, 2017
Exhibit Hall (Hynes Convention Center)
Julia Bresticker, Bucknell University, Williamsport, PA
The public is often faced with conflicting claims that challenge accepted scientific theories such as global climate change. Previous studies have shown that presenting individuals with these skeptical/denialist claims lowers their belief in a scientifically justified theory. In order to understand this process, our research team sought to determine which types of skeptical challenges were most influential in decreasing belief of scientific material. The research team focused on four different rhetorical types of challenge statements: specific question, general question, specific assertion, and general assertion. Participants were first asked to read a short expository paragraph about either global climate change or the KT extinction (as if from a science magazine).They were then asked to rate their belief on a sliding scale in three statements that were supported by the given article. Next, they were presented with a skeptical challenge statement from one of the four types of rhetorical challenge categories, or a control statement and retested for their belief. Pre-challenge and post-challenge belief ratings were compared to determine the influence that the contending claims had on participants’ beliefs. Results indicate that the specific assertion and general question challenge statements were effective in lowering participants’ belief in the climate change group. There was a statistically significant difference between the belief change after viewing the specific assertion statement when compared to the belief change of the control group. This belief change phenomenon, however, was not observed for the group that received the KT extinction article. Demographic analyses supported the previously established claim that political affiliation is a predictor of individual’s initial belief in a politically entangled scientific topic such as climate change. Analyses also found that religiosity played the same role in the KT extinction case as political affiliation played in the climate change case.The researchers hypothesize that these demographic variables may be responsible for the differences in belief change observed between these two studies. The denialist claims in the climate change case may have been previously heard in a political context, calling to mind political ideologies, and therefore suspending and lowering scientific belief.