The public’s attitudes towards science are crucial for the functioning of enlightened societies, since attitudes towards science may affect support for public funding of scientific activities, policy choices, or the public’s willingness to comply with science-based behavioral rules (e.g., wearing a mask in public during the COVID-19 pandemic).
We hypothesize that public trust in science may depend on the extent to which its findings confirm people’s prior beliefs. To test this hypothesis, we conduct a randomized experiment within a large-scale, representative survey in Germany. Focusing on the controversial question how migration affects natives’ labor-market success, we first elicit all respondents’ beliefs about the impact of migration on natives’ labor-market success. Then, we randomly assign respondents to one of four experimental groups (one control group, three information-treatment groups). Treatment 1 informs that some studies find negative impacts of migration on natives’ labor-market success, treatment 2 informs that some studies find no significant impact, and treatment 3 informs about both types of findings (note that the information provided in all three treatments is truthful). After treatment administration, we measure individuals’ attitudes towards science using several survey questions, and we summarize the answers to these questions into one index, which is our main outcome of interest. In our main analysis, we plan to estimate heterogeneous information-treatment effects by respondents’ prior beliefs. This will allow us to investigate the extent to which scientific findings confirm or contradict people’s priors affects their attitudes towards science. Furthermore, we will estimate treatment effects on individuals’ posterior beliefs about the impact of migration, and on general attitudes towards migration to investigate the extent to which individuals update their beliefs and attitudes about migration in response to (contradicting) scientific information.