The Role of Trust in Communicating Scientific Consensus and the Environmental Benefits of Genetically Engineered Crops: Experimental Evidence of a Backfire Effect

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Environmental Communication-A Journal of Nature and Culture

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Genetically engineered (GE) crops are likely to be one solution when it comes to balancing the needs of a growing human population and changing climate. Recent data suggest that many U.S. adults believe that GE foods are risky for human health and the environment, despite scientific consensus that they are no more harmful to human health or the environment than conventionally bred crops. While some evidence suggests that consensus messaging could be a significant factor in publics’ perceptions about technologies like GE, the effect of communicating scientific consensus and under different conditions remains unclear. We test message effectiveness in terms of individuals’ consensus perceptions and beliefs about the environmental risks and benefits of GE technology. We find that consensus messaging reduces perceived environmental risks of GE crops, and that supplementing a consensus message with benefits information reduces perceived environmental risks and increases anticipated benefits. We find an interaction effect for trust in scientists, such that those who have lower trust in industry scientists exhibit a backfire effect when exposed to consensus information.


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