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Public Underst Sci. 2012 Aug;21(6):689-704. doi: 10.1177/0963662510387759. Epub 2010 Nov 23.

Conflicting stories about public scientific controversies: Effects of news convergence and divergence on scientists' credibility.

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  • 1Purdue University, USA.


Surveys suggest that approximately one third of news consumers have encountered conflicting reports of the same information. News coverage of science is especially prone to conflict, but how news consumers perceive this situation is currently unknown. College students (N = 242) participated in a lab experiment where they were exposed to news coverage about one of two scientific controversies in the United States: dioxin in sewage sludge or the reintroduction of gray wolves to populated areas. Participants received (a) one news article (control), (b) two news articles that were consistent (convergent), or (c) two news articles that conflicted (divergent). The effects of divergence induced uncertainty differed by news story. Greater uncertainty was associated with increased scientists' credibility ratings for those reading dioxin regulation articles and decreased scientists' credibility ratings for those reading wolf reintroduction articles. Unlike other manifestations of uncertainty in scientific discourse, conflicting stories seem to generate effects that vary significantly by topic. Consistent with uncertainty management theory, uncertainty is embraced or rejected by situation.


cancer communications; health and media; interaction experts/publics; media and science; public understanding of science; representations of science; science attitudes and perceptions

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