Does Engagement in Advocacy Hurt the Credibility of Scientists? Results from a Randomized National Survey Experiment

John E. Kotcher, Teresa A. Myers, Emily K. Vraga, Neil Stenhouse, Edward W. Maibach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Scopus citations


It is often assumed that issue advocacy will compromise the credibility of scientists. We conducted a randomized controlled experiment to test public reactions to six different advocacy statements made by a scientist—ranging from a purely informational statement to an endorsement of specific policies. We found that perceived credibility of the communicating scientist was uniformly high in five of the six message conditions, suffering only when he advocated for a specific policy—building more nuclear power plants (although credibility did not suffer when advocating for a different specific policy—carbon dioxide limits at power plants). We also found no significant differences in trust in the broader climate science community between the six message conditions. Our results suggest that climate scientists who wish to engage in certain forms of advocacy have considerable latitude to do so without risking harm to their credibility, or the credibility of the scientific community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)415-429
Number of pages15
JournalEnvironmental Communication
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 4 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration [Award #: NNX11AQ80G], the Energy Foundation [Award #: G-1504-23011], and the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, none of which bear any responsibility for the findings and interpretations reported here.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Advocacy
  • climate change
  • credibility
  • message effects
  • public engagement
  • trust in scientists


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