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Do natural science experiments have an impact on public attitudes towards environmental problems?


A common pattern in environmental politics is to initiate natural science programs to perform risk assessment studies of potentially harmful processes, substances or technical installations. This pattern also holds for the global climate change and greenhouse gas issue. But do such studies have an influence on the politicians' readiness to plan environ-political measures and on the public's acceptance of such measures?

In the present study the significance of experiments in natural science in the public discussion on CO2-emissions was investigated. Politicians and lay people from the public where interviewed by using the social-science technique of qualitative interviews. Among the politicians three different types of attitudes towards natural science in general were found:

  1. natural science is perceived as a support for politicians in the implementation of measures;
  2. natural science is seen as an early warning system and thus as a contribution to the overall judgement of a problem;
  3. natural science is perceived as basic research and therefore playing a marginal role in the political discussion.

Depending on which attitude a politician holds, experiments in natural science can have an impact on his readiness to take environ-political measures. For lay persons key factors affecting the acceptance of environ-political measures are knowledge of environmental problems and their impacts on ecosystems or human health as well as personal direct perception of those impacts ? i.e. to see or feel them. Since direct perception is not always possible in everyday life, natural science experiments might be a means for successfully mediating this lacking perception. Crucial factors for successful mediation are:

  1. sufficient information at the level of the target group, i.e. using a language that is understood by non-experts
  2. knowledge about the bias in the public's conceptions of the issue.


  • Astrid Wallner (Realisation)


  • Wallner, A. 1999: Welche Rolle spielen naturwissenschaftliche Untersuchungen in der öffentlichen Umweltdiskussion? Forsch.bereich Landsch. WSL 42: 1-3.