Making sense of scientific claims in advertising. A study of scientifically aware consumers
Dodds, R., Tseelon, E. and Weitkamp, E. (2008) Making sense of scientific claims in advertising. A study of scientifically aware consumers. Public Understanding of Science, 17 (2). pp. 211-230. ISSN 0963-6625 Available from: http://eprints.uwe.ac.uk/10745
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Publisher's URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0963662506065559
Evidence that science is becoming increasingly embedded in culture comes from the proliferation of discourses of ethical consumption, sustainability, and environmental awareness. Al Gore's recent award, along with UN's Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the Nobel peace prize - provided a recent high profile linking of consumption and science. It is not clear to what extent the public at large engages in evaluating the scientific merits of the arguments about the link between human consumption and global environmental catastrophes. But on a local scale, we are routinely required to evaluate, scientific and pseudoscientific claims in advertising. Since advertising is used to sell products, the discourse of scientifically framed claims is being used to persuade consumers of the benefits of these products. In the case of functional foods and cosmetics, such statements are deployed to promote the health benefits and effectiveness of their products. This exploratory study examines the views of British consumers about the scientific and pseudoscientific claims made in advertisements for foods, with particular reference to functional foods, and cosmetics. The participants in the study all worked in scientific environments, though they were not all scientists. The study found that scientific arguments that were congruent with existing health knowledge tended to be accepted while pseudoscientific knowledge was regarded skeptically and concerns were raised over the accuracy and believability of the pseudoscientific claims. It appears that scientific awareness may play a part in consumers' ability to critically examine scientifically and pseudoscientifically based advertising claims.