Controversy matters: Impacts of topic and solution controversy on the perceived credibility of a scientist who advocates

Lindsey Beall, Teresa A. Myers, John E. Kotcher, Emily K. Vraga, Edward W. Maibach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


In this article, we focus on the potential influence of a scientist’s advocacy position on the public’s perceived credibility of scientists as a whole. Further, we examine how the scientist’s solution position (information only, non-controversial, and controversial) affects the public’s perception of the scientist’s motivation for sharing information about specific issues (flu, marijuana, climate change, severe weather). Finally, we assess how perceived motivations mediate the relationship between solution position and credibility. Using data from a quota sample of American adults obtained by Qualtrics (n = 2,453), we found that in some conditions advocating for a solution positively predicted credibility, while in one condition, it negatively predicted scientist credibility. We also found that the influence of solution position on perceived credibility was mediated by several motivation perceptions; most notably through perception that the scientist was motivated to: (a) serve the public and (b) persuade the public. Further results and implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0187511
JournalPloS one
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Beall et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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