Article

Support for research in climate change and nuclear energy, but less so for fracking: Born-free South Africans’ attitudes towards scientific controversies

DOI: 10.1080/20421338.2017.1399535
Author(s): Lars GuentherSouth African Research Chair in Science Communication, Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST), South Africa, Marina JoubertSouth African Research Chair in Science Communication, Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST), South Africa

Abstract

Research into public perceptions of science and technology has often focused on scientific controversies (such as biotechnology or fracking), in order to inform policy decisions or to develop better communication strategies. Recent trends in this field of research acknowledge that the general public consists of various social segments that have quite different attitudes towards scientific controversies. While there is some data available for South Africa, the present study is the first to compare perceptions of different controversial scientific fields for a unique South African public: so-called born-frees; hence, the future leaders of the country. To investigate attitudes and support for public funding of science for different controversial scientific fields, in the present study 310 born-free South Africans were surveyed. The findings highlight that most born-free South Africans support the public funding of different controversial scientific fields tested in this study. However, they are more positive about climate change and nuclear energy research, and more undecided in the case of fracking and evolution. The study also shows that for each of the controversial scientific fields, unique influencing factors seem to shape perceptions, and the often-stated correlation between positive attitudes and support for public funding does not hold for all controversial issues.

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