Insights into different audiences’ rejection of science can inform policy communication, webinar told

Si Gladman / 26 August 2023

Understanding differences in social and personal motivations, and drivers of hesitancy and risk perception, can help policy makers tailor effective messaging for population sub-groups on issues such as climate change and vaccine uptake, the latest RSA Webinar has heard.

At Wednesday’s webinar, guest speaker Dr Lucy Richardson shared findings from her research about science denialism and how different segmentations of the population have responded to climate change and COVID-19.

Dr Richardson, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub, noted how the results surprised her and her research team, and challenged previous assumptions about dismissive attitudes towards science on such issues.

Among these surprises, the people who comprised the minority segmentations that dismissed the science on climate change science and COVID-19 (of about 10 per cent of the population in both cases) were not the same people.


While women were much more sceptical and hesitant of the vaccines than men, they were less likely to be sceptical of climate change. Also, people who were dismissive of climate change were actually some of the most enthusiastic supporters of the vaccine. 

“We really did expect that if you were sceptical on one thing that you would be sceptical on the other. But that is not what we found. We thought that is possibly due to people’s risk profiles,” she said.

“So in general – and we are generalisting here – men tend to be less risk averse than women. One of the other aspects that we have to think about in regard to risk is whether or not some viewed the risk of COVID as more than the risk of the vaccine.”

Another finding was that both ends of the political scale – liberals and conservatives – were more accepting of vaccines than people who were politically moderate.

Dr Richardson suggested that such people in the middle of the political spectrum tended to be less confident in their views of science, making them more hesitant when it came to accepting the vaccine.

She said the research into understanding audience segmentation provided crucial insights especially for policymakers in communicating messages to the public on politically controversial issues.

“…understanding those differences can help us actually tailor the messages to tap into those aspects and try to encourage uptake of those kinds of behaviours and necessary actions,” she said.

Dr Richardson’s research was co-published with Jagadish Thaker and David C. Holmes in the science journal Nature here.

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Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator for the Rationalist Society of Australia.

All the more reason.