It can be embarrassing to be a human!
Public Release: 1-Jun-2016
Politics, not ignorance, may pollute support for pro-science solutions
Mentioning politics in a message about an environmental issue may turn people -- even people informed about the issue -- away from supporting a pro-science solution, according to a team of researchers.
In a study, conservative participants who were asked to react to a message about excess water runoff showed lower support for an environmental science improvement project when the message was framed around global warming terminology, according to Lee Ahern, associate professor of advertising and public relations, Penn State. The effect was even stronger among those conservatives with more knowledge about the issue, he added.
"It's the framing of the issue that's really important," said Ahern. "This is really a message for scientists and science communicators: don't pollute and politicize the information environment around the issue, because once you do that, people's political identities are going to get engaged."
This study, along with others, has established that having more knowledge about science does not necessarily translate into more support for pro-science policies, according to Ahern, who added that, in this case, the environmental solution was to add more green surface infrastructure, such as green roofs.
Ahern said that all political ideologies, not just conservatives, are susceptible to this type of motivated reasoning.
"This is not unique to conservatives," said Ahern. "It works both ways. Studies have been done on other issues, for example, nuclear power and genetically modified organisms, that have shown similar effects among liberals."
The researchers suggest that scientists hoping to reach consensus on solutions should avoid political rhetoric in their communication.
"This is really a message for the scientists, not necessarily the public," said Ahern. "It's interesting for people to understand what's happening, but the people who really need to change what they are doing are the scientists and science communicators."
But it's those in the fossil fuel industries who have made global warming a political issue. Similarly for those in other polluting industries.