Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Fact & Fiction: Attitudinal and Behavior Differences on Federal Spending for Science Research and Space Exploration

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 2:05 PM
Grenada (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Shawn Janzen, American University
Modern, industrial societies seek new innovations required for economic growth. Yet, the U.S. science funding needed to create those technologies has fallen over the past two decades.  Support for federal funding choices is a complex, but testable political matter.  Communicating science with the aim to increase federal spending on science and space is a growing field of academic study and commercial interest.  Numerous policy reports use national public opinion research to inform lawmakers, but offer limited insight on how those opinions may change or if participants are willing to directly engage policymakers.

This study contributes to the literature and practice through a survey experiment on how the content of science news alters public attitudes toward federal spending on science and space.  Reaction to the news depends on the omission or inclusion of details.  This study’s treatment of science and space news demonstrates how sensationalizing content toward national security or international cooperation can have real-world political and policy implications.  The experiment’s first objective assesses attitudinal effects on spending through three false science and space news topics and each topic has a neutral text control, national security text treatment, and international cooperation text treatment.  Participants randomly receive one of the nine news text and respond to questions on federal spending for science and space and identify preferences for public and private funding options.  After debriefing with the truth, participants have the option to resubmit their preferences, offering insight into deceptive communication practices.  The experiment’s second objective determines behavioral commitment.  Participants are given an option to sign up to three petitions to Congress that reflect their preferences for science research spending, space exploration spending, and national funding strategy.   

This study uses primary data through Amazon Mechanical Turk’s task worker pool collected April 2015 to May 2015 for nearly 1000 participants.  Ordinal logit models are used to investigate the average treatment effects of science news content on levels of federal spending.  This study proposes a rational spending preference that the national security group will prefer greater federal spending and international cooperation would prefer less federal spending, each relative to the control group.  Multinomial logit models explore government, private, and hybrid funding solutions for science and space accounting for the news content.   This study proposes the national security group prefers government funding relative to the international and control groups.  Furthermore, this study assumes that national security issues will energize the public to petition Congress for funding science and space, relative to the other groups.

Findings from this study have three-fold benefits.  First, communicators of science gain greater awareness on the importance and strategy of disseminating science news.  Second, it adds to the governance literature on the appropriateness of cross-sector funding solutions.  Third, it builds on the literature for using experimental design to study salient policy issues.  Understanding the public’s willingness to engage carries over to numerous other areas of study such as representation theory and electoral research.