The Public Engagement of Academics – Experimental Evidence on the Attitudes of Professors

Last registered on October 07, 2020

Pre-Trial

Trial Information

General Information

Title
The Public Engagement of Academics – Experimental Evidence on the Attitudes of Professors
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0006565
Initial registration date
October 07, 2020

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
October 07, 2020, 9:48 AM EDT

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.

Locations

Region

Primary Investigator

Affiliation
Institute of Economic Policy, Leibniz University Hanover

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
Department of Economics, Kiel University
PI Affiliation
Institute of Economic Policy, Leibniz University Hanover
PI Affiliation
Institute of Economic Policy, Leibniz University Hanover

Additional Trial Information

Status
On going
Start date
2020-10-05
End date
2020-11-01
Secondary IDs
Abstract
Expectations that academics contribute actively to public discussions have grown in recent years. These expectations are being justified on various grounds, ranging from the importance of scientific knowledge for solving societal challenges to obligations deduced from the public funding of higher education institutions. From the perspective of individual academics, engaging in public discussions can be seen to be at odds with the role of scientists and may imply reputational and other risks. The study seeks to shed light on this relation among external expectations, risks and academics’ attitudes toward their engagement with the public.

The study is designed as an information experiment integrated into an online survey of professors in Germany on interactions with their non-academic environment. The main outcome of the experiment is the respondents’ answer to the question whether academics in their own discipline should contribute less or more to public discussions in the future. Four pieces of information, each of them shown to a randomly selected group of survey participants, form the experiment’s treatments. The question that comprises the treatments and constitutes the experiment’s main outcome is preceded by two questions that elicit the prior knowledge of the information presented from all participants.

Participants in the control group are shown only the question constituting the experiment’s main outcome and an introductory sentence mentioning the growing relevance of science for public opinion formation and political decisions. Participants in the four treatment groups receive an additional piece of information presented between the introductory sentence and the question. Each piece of information relates to either expectations directed at academics and their public engagement or risks associated with such an engagement. The first two treatment groups receive information on the public opinion on the role of science in society from a poll conducted in Germany in 2019. The third treatment group receives information on the coverage of knowledge and technology transfer in the higher education legislation of the German federal states. The fourth treatment group receives information on two examples of negative consequences of the public engagement of two German professors during the SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 pandemic.

The target population of the survey consists of all professors in Germany at state and ecclesiastical higher education institutions. This amounts to a total of around 44,600 individuals. Based on the results of other surveys of the same population and a field test of the survey instrument, a gross response rate of around 10 % is expected, leading to an expected number of observations of around 4,500. The randomization for the survey experiment takes place on the level of the individual. Upon opening the online survey, each participant is randomly assigned to either the control group or one of the four treatment groups by the survey application.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Citation
Püttmann, Vitus et al. 2020. "The Public Engagement of Academics – Experimental Evidence on the Attitudes of Professors." AEA RCT Registry. October 07. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.6565
Sponsors & Partners

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Experimental Details

Interventions

Intervention(s)
Intervention Start Date
2020-10-05
Intervention End Date
2020-11-01

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
The main outcome of the survey experiment, which will be used to measure the impact of the treatments, is the response of survey participants to the following question: “If you think about scientists from your discipline: Should these involve themselves less or more in public discussion in the future?“ [In German: “Wenn Sie die Wissenschaftler*innen Ihrer Fachdisziplin betrachten: Sollten sich diese in Zukunft weniger oder mehr in den öffentlichen Diskurs einbringen?”]. Survey participants can respond to this question on a five-point scale with the following categories: “a lot less” [“Viel weniger”], “less” [“Weniger”], “equally” [“Gleich”], “more” [“Mehr”], and “a lot more” [“Viel mehr”].
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
The survey experiment consists of a control group and four treatment groups.
Experimental Design Details
The survey experiment consists of a control group and four treatment groups. It is part of an online survey of professors in Germany on interactions with their non-academic environment. The survey will be administered to all professors in Germany at state and ecclesiastical higher education institutions via an e-mail that includes a link to the online survey. This target population consists of a total of around 44,600 individuals. Based on the results of other surveys of the same population and a field test of the survey instrument, a gross response rate of around 10 % is expected, leading to an expected number of observations of around 4,500. Upon opening the online survey, each participant is randomly assigned to either the control group or one of the four treatment groups by the survey application.
Randomization Method
The randomization is carried out by the survey software “LimeSurvey”.
Randomization Unit
The randomization is going to take place at the level of the individual survey participant.
Was the treatment clustered?
No

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
0
Sample size: planned number of observations
Around 4,500: The survey is going to be administered to 44,600 individuals. Based on the results of previous surveys of the same population and a field test of the survey instrument, a gross response rate of around 10 % is expected, leading to an expected number of observations of around 4,500.
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
Based on an estimated sample size of around 4,500 and a random assignment of survey participants to one of the five arms of the experiment, it is expected that the sample size for the control group and each of the four treatment groups will be around 900 individuals.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
IRB

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number

Post-Trial

Post Trial Information

Study Withdrawal

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Intervention

Is the intervention completed?
No
Data Collection Complete
Data Publication

Data Publication

Is public data available?
No

Program Files

Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials

Relevant Paper(s)

Reports & Other Materials