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Accessible science reporting can foster overconfidence in readers

27 November 2017

A scientifically informed public is a wonderful thing, and at the Digest we’re happy to be part of cultivating it. But we’d be the first to admit that many scientific issues are too complex for a single article to resolve decisively.

When it comes to making consequential life decisions, it’s still important to defer to experts who can draw nuanced conclusions from looking at the big picture.

But experts are increasingly denigrated, and a new study in the journal Public Understanding of Science suggests that one cause may be our easy access to information, giving us the impression that we already know all we need. Specifically, science reporting that is accessible, breezy and details-light can discourage readers from consulting experts on that topic.

Lisa Scharrer of the University of Münster and her colleagues recruited 73 German participants (average age of 34) with a range of educational backgrounds. They read a booklet containing four scenarios in which a hypothetical friend had a health issue and wanted to know the veracity of a claim, for instance: “does eating chillies decrease blood pressure?”. Each scenario was followed by a genuine research-based article about a relevant medical science finding.

Read more on our Research Digest blog.


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