Science said ignored in stem cell debate

June 9, 2008 at 9:14 PM

MADISON, Wis., June 9 (UPI) -- When forming attitudes on embryonic stem cell research, people are influenced by a number of factors, but science is not one of them, U.S. researchers say.

A team of University of Wisconsin-Madison communications researchers say that scientific knowledge -- for many citizens -- has an almost negligible effect on how 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?" Dietram Scheufele, one of the paper's three authors, says in a statement. "The data show that no, it doesn't. It does for some groups, but definitely not for others."

The researchers used national public opinion research to analyze how public attitudes are formed about controversial scientific issues such as nanotechnology and stem cells.

The study, published in the International Journal of Public Opinion, finds again and again that knowledge is much less important than other factors, such as religious values or deference to scientific authority.

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.

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