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Public Underst Sci. 2011 Nov;20(6):751-70.

The cultural authority of science: public trust and acceptance of organized science.

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Department of Sociology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT 06296-2068, USA.


Using the National Science Foundation's 2006 Science Indicators Survey, this study explores three distinct explanations of public attitudes. First, the knowledge-attitudes model refers to a well tested relationship between public knowledge of science and more favorable attitudes toward science. Second, the alienation model hypothesizes that public disassociation with science is a symptom of a general disenchantment with late modernity, mainly, the limitations associated with codified expertise, rational bureaucracy, and institutional authority. A third approach emphasizes the cultural meaning of science: how various public beliefs about "what science is" relate to acceptance or reservations about science. The Science Indicators Survey shows that US adults view science (what it is or should be) in three distinct ways: (1) in terms of having a systematic method, (2) in terms of social location (i.e., takes place in a university or a laboratory), and (3) in terms of knowledge that should accord with commonsense and tradition. The findings in this study indicate that the knowledge-attitudes, alienation, and cultural meanings models are all valuable for understanding the cultural authority of science. However, the strength of these explanations depends on the type of attitude analyzed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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