How Do Readers Explain the Occurrence of Conflicts in Science Texts? Effects of Presentation Format and Source Expertise

Abstract

The present study set out to investigate the influence of two metatextual features-presentation format and source expertise-on lay readers’ explanation of conflicts in scientific information. Secondary school students read partly conflicting information about a medical topic, which was either presented in one single document or in four different documents, and which was purportedly authored by lay or expert sources. Results show that readers deemed deficits in source expertise (source explanations) more likely to account for conflicts in information written by lay authors than for conflicts reported by experts. In addition, conflicts presented by experts and conflicts in multiple documents were explained more strongly by referring to the nature of knowledge and knowledge production (epistemic explanations). Our findings demonstrate that readers are sensitive to situational variations when considering the most likely explanations for scientific conflicts. Implications for readers’ adequate understanding and subjective resolution of scientific controversies are discussed.


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