The role of media discourse framing attitudes towards the use of embryonic stem cells

Beliefs about science and news frames in audience evaluations of embryonic and adult stem cell research

From Science Communication

There has been great global attention to the recent announcement that US doctors have begun the first official trial of using human embryonic stem cells in patients after getting the green light from regulators. The shift in political stance towards embryonic stem cell research is a result of the change in US government to the Democratic Party, led by President Ohama. Although many scientists are supportive and excited about the potential, this type of stem cell research is still considered controversial by some others.

This study investigates how demographic variables (gender, science background and interest, political and religious orientation) and beliefs about science influence audience evaluations of studies on embryonic and adult stem cells. It also recognizes how media discourse on biotechnology has tended in the past to be framed in terms of political controversy and ethical dilemmas. Support for embryonic stem cell research increases as exposure to this research in the media increases, but this relationship is attenuated by both religious and ideological predispositions. Are attitudes changing? Will media discourse shift further to encourage more liberal public opinion or are conservative attitudes fixed?


This study investigates the influence of demographic variables, beliefs about science, and news frames on ratings of ethics, credibility, and usefulness of embryonic and adult stem cell research. Framing affected only ratings of ethics, in interaction with type of stem cell, with a large difference between embryonic and adult stem cells in a political conflict frame and no difference in a scientific progress frame. Belief that science is neutral with respect to religion and morality was positively associated with ethics and usefulness ratings for embryonic research; frequency of religious attendance was positively associated with ethics, credibility, and usefulness ratings for adult research only. Humanities and social science majors tended to rate both the embryonic and adult research as more credible, as did participants with higher self-reported science interest and exposure. Quantitative analyses are supplemented with qualitative interview data.

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Article Details:
Stewart, C., Dickerson, D., & Hotchkiss, R. (2008). Beliefs About Science and News Frames in Audience Evaluations of Embryonic and Adult Stem Cell Research Science Communication, 30 (4), 427-452 DOI: 10.1177/1075547008326931

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