Lay Americans’ views of why scientists disagree with each other

Branden B. Johnson, Nathan F. Dieckmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


A survey experiment assessed response to five explanations of scientific disputes: problem complexity, self-interest, values, competence, and process choices (e.g. theories and methods). A US lay sample (n = 453) did not distinguish interests from values, nor competence from process, as explanations of disputes. Process/competence was rated most likely and interests/values least; all, on average, were deemed likely to explain scientific disputes. Latent class analysis revealed distinct subgroups varying in their explanation preferences, with a more complex latent class structure for participants who had heard of scientific disputes in the past. Scientific positivism and judgments of science’s credibility were the strongest predictors of latent class membership, controlling for scientific reasoning, political ideology, confidence in choice, scenario, education, gender, age, and ethnicity. The lack of distinction observed overall between different explanations, as well as within classes, raises challenges for further research on explanations of scientific disputes people find credible and why.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)824-835
Number of pages12
JournalPublic Understanding of Science
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 1 2018


  • bias
  • competence
  • complexity
  • lay explanations
  • public perceptions
  • scientific disputes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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