The science literacy/knowledge deficit model states that the public is willing and able to process information if it is available. Therefore, a lack of public support or participation is caused by a lack of information available to the public.
Audiences can and should acquire as much info as possible about science and technologies. This increase of information will allow audiences to develop well-informed perceptions about the impacts of a science topic such as nanotechnology or climate change.
Other people, Internet, media, many researchers, and practitioners in this area also argue that a more-informed public would be more supportive of scientific inquiry and of emerging technologies, such as nanotechnology or agricultural technology. This is not rational: Example: only 3% of people in America have been to a town meeting. The reality is that the public will take information and interpret it based on their individual social, political, and cultural backgrounds. Religious and political beliefs can often stand in the way of a person's objective opinion. This can have a negative effect on science.
A 2010 meta-analysis of 193 studies sought to interpret the link between science knowledge and attitude towards science. The studies included were taken using nonuniform methods across the world between 1989 and 2004 to provide a cross-cultural analysis. Broad and specific science knowledge and attitude categories were correlated. General science and general biology knowledge was gauged using questions similar to those by the National Science Foundation used to capture "civil scientific literacy". Data on general science and biology knowledge was then compared with attitudes towards general science, nuclear power, genetic medicine, genetically modified food, and environmental science. From the raw data, it was found that a small positive correlation exists between general science knowledge and attitude towards science, indicating that increased scientific knowledge is related to a favorable attitude towards a science topic, and that this was not related to socioeconomic or technologic status of a country, but rather the amount of individuals enrolled in tertiary education. However, some studies have found that high levels of science knowledge may indicate highly positive and highly negative attitudes towards specific topics such as agriculture biotechnology. Thus knowledge may be a predictor of the attitude strength and not necessarily if the attitude is positive or negative.
The knowledge deficit model is important for science communicators to know about. This is particularly important with respect to the concept of framing when communicating information. Framing can be used to reduce the complexity of an issue, or to persuade audiences, and can play into the underlying religious beliefs, moral values, prior knowledge, and even trust in scientists or political individuals. Further, the transmission of scientific ideas and technological adoption may be strongly linked to the passage of information between easily influenced individuals, versus the widely accepted "two-step flow" theory where a few opinion leaders acted as intermediaries between mass media and the general public.
In contrast to the knowledge-deficit model is the low-information rationality model that states humans minimize costs associated with making decisions and forming attitudes, thereby avoiding developing in-depth understandings. Decreasing the knowledge deficit is a complicated task, but if we know how the general public thinks, or how they go about learning and interpreting new information, we can better communicate our message to them in the most unbiased, objective way possible.
- Allum, Nick; Sturgis P, Tabourazi D, Brunton-Smith I (2008). "Science knowledge and attitudes across cultures: a meta-analysis". Public Understanding of Science 17: 35–54. doi:10.1177/0963662506070159.
- Miller, J.D. "Scientific Literacy: a Conceptual and Empirical Review". Dedalus 11: 29–48.
- Durant, J; Martin, S Tait, J. Biotechnology in Public: a Review of Recent Research. London: Science Museum Publications. pp. 28–41.
- Watts, Duncan J.; Dodds, P.S. (2007). "Influentials, Networks, and Public Opinion Formation". Journal of Consumer Research 34: 441–458. doi:10.1086/518527.
- Katz, Eliju; Lazersfeld, P.F. (1955). "Personal Influence; the Part Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communication".
- Scheufele, Dietram. MESSAGES AND HEURISTICS: HOW AUDIENCES FORM ATTITUDES ABOUT EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES. Engaging Science: Thoughts, deeds, analysis and action. p. 21-25.
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