The pivotal role of perceived scientific consensus in acceptance of science

Journal name:
Nature Climate Change
Volume:
3,
Pages:
399–404
Year published:
DOI:
doi:10.1038/nclimate1720
Received
Accepted
Published online

Abstract

Although most experts agree that CO2 emissions are causing anthropogenic global warming (AGW), public concern has been declining. One reason for this decline is the ‘manufacture of doubt’ by political and vested interests, which often challenge the existence of the scientific consensus. The role of perceived consensus in shaping public opinion is therefore of considerable interest: in particular, it is unknown whether consensus determines people’s beliefs causally. It is also unclear whether perception of consensus can override people’s ‘worldviews’, which are known to foster rejection of AGW. Study 1 shows that acceptance of several scientific propositions—from HIV/AIDS to AGW—is captured by a common factor that is correlated with another factor that captures perceived scientific consensus. Study 2 reveals a causal role of perceived consensus by showing that acceptance of AGW increases when consensus is highlighted. Consensus information also neutralizes the effect of worldview.

At a glance

Figures

  1. Final latent variable Model 3 in Study 1 for item types (a) and (b) from Table 1.
    Figure 1: Final latent variable Model 3 in Study 1 for item types (a) and (b) from Table 1.

    Labels for manifest variables are given in Table 2, with subscript b referring to acceptance of science and subscript c to perceived consensus, respectively. All correlations and loadings are significant. See Supplementary Information for details of model fitting.

  2. The interaction effect of experimental conditions on the association between mean-centred free-market endorsement and acceptance of AGW in Study 2 (AGWb predicted from the regression model).
    Figure 2: The interaction effect of experimental conditions on the association between mean-centred free-market endorsement and acceptance of AGW in Study 2 (AGWb predicted from the regression model).

    See text for details.

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Author information

Affiliations

  1. School of Psychology, University of Western Australia, Crawley, Western Australia 6009, Australia

    • Stephan Lewandowsky,
    • Gilles E. Gignac &
    • Samuel Vaughan

Contributions

S.L. designed and supervised the studies and wrote the paper. G.E.G. and S.L. jointly conducted the analyses and G.E.G. contributed to writing of the article, and S.V. was involved in design and execution of Study 2.

Competing financial interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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