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Public Underst Sci. 2008 Jul;17(3):309-27.

Public opinion and trust in scientists: the role of the research context, and the perceived motivation of stem cell researchers.

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Faculty of Sciences, Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia.


This research examined why the public may be less supportive of stem cell research when conducted in a private compared to public research context. A representative sample (n = 403) of Australians who were exposed to information relating to privately funded scientists were significantly less likely to approve of stem cell research than those who were presented with a scenario of scientists working within a publicly funded University (n = 401) and a control condition (n = 404). Mediation analyses revealed that the decrease in approval was primarily associated with the tendency of privately funded scientists to be trusted less than their publicly funded counterparts. Public trust in University scientists was also found to be higher than that of private scientists because publicly funded scientists were perceived to be motivated more by benevolence, and more likely to produce benefits that will be accessible to the public. While private scientists were perceived to be more self interested than public scientists, perceived self interest did not explain the decrease in trust. There were also no significant differences across research contexts for the perceived competence of scientists or the likelihood that stem cell research would result in cures for diseases. The implications of these results are discussed in relation to the possible decrease in public trust that may occur alongside the increasing privatization of academic enquiry, and particularly controversial scientific research.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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