Warm Change about Hot Topics

The Role of Motivation and Emotion in Attitude and Conceptual Change about Controversial Science Topics

Authored by: Gale M. Sinatra , Viviane Seyranian

Handbook of Educational Psychology

Print publication date:  July  2015
Online publication date:  July  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415894814
eBook ISBN: 9781315688244
Adobe ISBN: 9781317420569


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Students and the general public often consider current scientific topics such as biological evolution, climate change, stem cell research, vaccinations, and genetically modified food controversial. However, the degree of controversy is in the eye of the beholder. Science is conducted at the edge of the known, thus cutting-edge science can be controversial even among those engaged in the research directly. However, many issues within a field of study are largely resolved from a scientific standpoint, but are still considered controversial from the public’s perception. As an example, 98% of climate scientists concur that we are in a period of warming and humans are contributing significantly to this trend (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007). Thus, this point is not controversial within the climate science community. However, the projections for future average temperatures still have a degree of uncertainty—somewhere between 2 and 6° is the best estimate (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007). The degree of uncertainty in projections may contribute to the public’s perception that climate change is more controversial than scientists perceive it to be. Similarly, there is a high level of certainty within the scientific community that vaccines are not linked to autism, and yet the causes of autism are still uncertain, leading some members of the public to resist vaccinating their children (Sinatra, Kienhues, & Hofer, 2014).

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