Is a Little Pollution Good for You?: Incorporating Societal Values in Environmental Research

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Aaron M. McCright, a hidden genius w David C. Volz University of California, Riverside Verified email at ucr. Nagwan R. Zahry Michigan State University Verified email at msu. Joseph D.

Values in environmental research: Citizens’ views of scientists who acknowledge values

Martin Durham University Verified email at durham. John C. Associate Professor, Michigan State University. Philosophy of Science Environmental Ethics. Articles Cited by Co-authors. Title Cited by Year Is a little pollution good for you? Environmental health perspectives 7 , , History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, , International Journal of Applied Philosophy 24 2 , , Science and Engineering Ethics 12 4 , , Articles 1—20 Show more.

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Direct and indirect roles for values in science KC Elliott Philosophy of Science 78 2 , , Scientific judgment and the limits of conflict-of-interest policies KC Elliott Accountability in research 15 1 , , Tables 1 and 2 present the results of OLS regression models explaining positive affect toward and perceived trust in the scientist who offered an interpretation of the state of the science on BPA, respectively. In each table, the first model estimates main effects in the full sample and the four subsequent models estimate the effects of the two values dummy variables in each of four subsamples.

Figs 1 and 2 visually represent selected results from the tables.


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Effects are relative to a scientist not expressing a preference for particular values and are net of control variables; see Table 1. In the two overall regression models with only additive effects, subjects exposed to a scientist mentioning either economic growth values or public health values report lesser positive affect toward and perceived trust in the scientist than do subjects exposed to a scientist mentioning no values.

Also, subjects exposed to a scientist who concludes that BPA causes harm report greater positive affect toward and perceived trust in the scientist than do subjects exposed to a scientist who concludes that BPA does not cause harm. Also, age is the only social, demographic, or political control variable that has a statistically significant effect on either outcome variable in the overall sample, with older subjects reporting greater positive affect toward the scientist than their younger counterparts.

At the suggestion of a reviewer, we also re-estimated this model without controlling for political ideology and found no substantial changes in our results. Exposure to a scientist acknowledging economic growth values significantly decreases positive affect toward and perceived trust in that scientist for subjects in three of four subsamples. The exception is the group of subjects who favor economic growth over public health and who were exposed to a scientist concluding that BPA causes harm. Exposure to a scientist acknowledging public health values significantly decreases positive affect toward and perceived trust in that scientist only for subjects who favor public health over economic growth and who were exposed to a scientist who concludes that BPA causes harm.

We also excluded any Experiment 1 participants from Experiment 2. The sample contains subjects who completed the entire experiment of the who began it on September 18, While Experiment 1 focused on a scientist mentioning or not mentioning values when interpreting the science, Experiment 2 focused on a scientist acknowledging or not acknowledging values when making a policy recommendation.

This experiment employed a 3x2 full factorial design: values values not mentioned, economic growth values present, or public health values present by conclusion regulate BPA more strongly, reduce regulation of BPA. Again, this was a fully randomized design with no stratification. The exact stimulus messages presented in each of the six resulting six conditions are presented in Part B of S1 File. Other than the difference in experimental stimuli, the design and order of Experiment 2 was identical to that of Experiment 1. We also employ the same four demographic, social, and political variables as statistical controls as in Experiment 1.

As in Experiment 1, we treat age, education, and political ideology as continuous variables to preserve degrees of freedom. We employed the same analytical techniques using Stata We analyzed our data with a series of OLS regression models, each of which included our four demographic, social, and political variables as controls.

Again, OLS is justified because our two outcome variables take on a large number of distinct values: 58 for positive affect and 43 for perceived trust.

To examine those interaction effects suggested in our research questions, we ran OLS regression models predicting each outcome variable with the two values statements dummy variables scientist values economic growth and scientist values public health within our four subsamples. Tables 3 and 4 present the results of OLS regression models explaining positive affect toward and perceived trust in the scientist who made a policy recommendation about BPA, respectively. None of our social, demographic, and political control variables have a statistically significant effect on either positive affect or perceived trust in our overall sample.

Figs 3 and 4 visually represent selected results from the tables. In the two overall regression models with only additive effects, subjects exposed to a scientist mentioning economic growth values report lesser positive affect toward and perceived trust in the scientist than do subjects exposed to a scientist mentioning no values. We now shift to the results of the models using data from the four subsamples. Exposure to a scientist acknowledging economic growth values significantly decreases positive affect toward and perceived trust in that scientist, but only among subjects who favor public health over economic growth.

Exposure to a scientist acknowledging public health values significantly decreases positive affect toward a scientist only for subjects who favor economic growth over public health and who were exposed to a scientist recommending that BPA be more strongly regulated. Among all other subsamples, exposure to a scientist mentioning public health values has no statistically significant effect on either positive affect toward or perceived trust in that scientist. In response to the ways in which values intertwine with scientific research, some scholars argue that scientists should make their value commitments more transparent [ 3 , 17 , 19 ].

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Focusing on the topic of the health risks of BPA, we conducted two experiments to provide initial answers to three key questions. Briefly, when a scientist publicly acknowledges values, how do the following matter for how citizens view that scientist:. Box 1 below displays our major findings, which we summarize here. Our results provide strong support for this claim when subjects value public health and the scientist values economic growth.

Yet, this claim only receives weak support when subjects value economic growth and the scientist values public health. While the credibility of a scientist acknowledging a value shared by subjects was unaffected when making a policy recommendation Experiment 2 , this was not the case when the scientist was assessing the state of the science Experiment 1. We now shift to focus more directly on this relationship between values and conclusions. Our analyses indicate that citizens may be more skeptical of scientists whose conclusions seem to follow from their values than of scientists whose conclusions seem contrary to their values, likely because of the concern that the latter may have reached their potentially biased conclusions via motivated cognition [ 45 ].

Positive affect toward and perceived trust in the scientist are reduced in three of the four subsamples all but when subjects valuing economic growth evaluate a scientist who values public health and concludes that BPA causes harm. Yet, when scientists offer conclusions that seem divergent from their reported values, positive affect and perceived trust are reduced in only one of the four subsamples when subjects valuing public health evaluate a scientist who values economic growth and concludes that BPA causes harm.

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When scientists offer conclusions that seem convergent with their reported values, both positive affect and perceived trust are reduced in only one subsample: when subjects valuing public health evaluate a scientist valuing economic growth who calls for reducing regulation of BPA. Positive affect but not perceived trust is reduced in another subsample: when subjects valuing economic growth valuate a scientist valuing public health who calls for stronger regulation. Paralleling what we found in Experiment 1, when scientists offer conclusions that seem divergent from their reported values, positive affect and perceived trust are reduced in only one of the four subsamples when subjects valuing public health evaluate a scientist who values economic growth and calls for stronger regulation.

Because values are commonly recognized as being relevant to policy-making but not to scientific reasoning [ 30 — 32 ], citizens may have fewer concerns about values statements when scientists make policy recommendations than when they assess the state of the science [ 8 , 9 ]. Yet, when the scientist made a policy recommendation in this same context, positive affect and perceived trust are unaffected. Thus, in some circumstances, the credibility of a scientist acknowledging values is affected by whether the scientist is assessing the state of the science or is making a policy recommendation.

While our findings are compelling, they nevertheless result from a single study on a single public policy issue in which we analyzed data from two convenience samples. Further work is clearly warranted in what we anticipate will be a growing literature. This is especially the case as scientists more frequently communicate with laypeople and policy-makers about policy-relevant scientific issues via social media.

Given this, we end with a few recommendations for moving this scholarship forward. Additional research should aim to replicate and extend this study to more completely assess the consistency and generalizability of its results. While our two experiments focused on one specific research topic i.

This is important, since citizens may be willing to accept the influence of values in some areas of science but not in others. Future work may further explore nuanced patterns like those we found here by employing other scholarly conceptions of science: e. This conceptualization helps explain support for or opposition to fields of policy-relevant science [ 26 ], and it also may be efficacious for helping us understand the likely nuanced dynamics of values and credibility.

It does seem reasonable that some of the public skepticism of other policy-relevant areas of science e. Thus, future research may improve our understanding of how values influence public skepticism about policy-relevant areas of science. The results of both experiments suggest that publicly acknowledging values may diminish the perceived credibility of scientists within the general public.

Yet, the patterns of our results were rather nuanced. Further research is needed to establish the consistency and generalizability of these results across other topics related to environmental research. Moreover, these empirical findings are just one of many factors that scientists need to take into account when deciding how to present policy-relevant findings to the public. For example, even if acknowledging values diminishes their credibility, scientists may have ethical responsibilities to be transparent about the ways in which values could have influenced their research or their policy recommendations [ 17 , 19 ].

Nevertheless, these results provide important information for scientists who perform research on policy-relevant topics related to environmental issues. In particular, they should be prepared that acknowledging values may have the consequence of diminishing their credibility, and they should consider whether additional steps are warranted to address this consequence.

The authors thank Jayden Elliott for assistance creating the figures. Browse Subject Areas? Click through the PLOS taxonomy to find articles in your field.

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Abstract Scientists who perform environmental research on policy-relevant topics face challenges when communicating about how values may have influenced their research. There was no additional external funding received for this study Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist. Introduction Scientists frequently are asked to communicate with policy makers, journalists, and members of the general public on important environmental issues such as climate change, genetically engineered crops, food safety and nutrition, hydraulic fracturing, and pesticide safety.

All subjects received the following background information before reading their brief experimental message: For several decades, a scientist named Dr. Variables We employed two composite outcome variables in our analyses. Analytical techniques We analyzed our data with a series of ordinary least squares OLS regression models using the Stata Results Tables 1 and 2 present the results of OLS regression models explaining positive affect toward and perceived trust in the scientist who offered an interpretation of the state of the science on BPA, respectively.

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