Kohl, P. A., Kim, S. Y., Peng, Y., Akin, H., Koh, E. J., Howell, A., & Dunwoody, S. (2015). The influence of weight-of-evidence strategies on audience perceptions of (un) certainty when media cover contested science. Public Understanding of Science.


Controversy in science news accounts attracts audiences and draws attention to important science issues. But sometimes covering multiple sides of a science issue does the audience a disservice. Counterbalancing a truth claim backed by strong scientific support with a poorly backed argument can unnecessarily heighten audience perceptions of uncertainty. At the same time, journalistic norms often constrain reporters to “get both sides of the story” even when there is little debate in the scientific community about which truth claim is most valid. In this study, we look at whether highlighting the way in which experts are arrayed across truth claims—a strategy we label “weight-of-evidence reporting”—can attenuate heightened perceptions of uncertainty that can result from coverage of conflicting claims. The results of our study suggest weight-of-evidence strategies can indeed play a role in reducing some of the uncertainty audiences may perceive when encountering lop-sided truth claims.