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Decision-making and evaluation of science causal claims: effects of goals on uses of evidence and explanatory mechanism


Evidence and explanatory mechanism are central to scientific practices. Using such information could also inform decisions about issues in which science can play some role, from policy issues like climate change to personal issues like vaccination. While research suggests that people tend to focus on non-science considerations when making science-related decisions, there is also evidence that people can reason very productively with evidence and mechanism. This study examines how the goals participants pursue when reading a science report influences how they attend to information about causal mechanism and evidence.

Two hundred and seventeen high school students were asked either to evaluate the truth

of a scientific claim, to make a personal decision based on the claim, or to make a social policy decision based on the claim using an online task-based survey. All three groups of participants attended to evidence and mechanism, but participants with different goals requested different types of information and were influenced by evidence and mechanism for different reasons. The findings suggest that goals influence how participants use evidence and mechanism.

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