John E. Kotcher, Teresa A. Myers, Emily K. Vraga, Neil Stenhouse & Edward W. Maibach (2017). Does engagement in advocacy hurt the credibility of scientists? Results from a randomized national survey experiment. Environmental Communication, 11(3), pp. 415-429.
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.