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Are Opinions Based on Science: Modelling Social Response to Scientific Facts
Published: Wednesday, August 08, 2012
Author: Gerardo Iñiguez et al.

by Gerardo Iñiguez, Julia Tagüeña-Martínez, Kimmo K. Kaski, Rafael A. Barrio

As scientists we like to think that modern societies and their members base their views, opinions and behaviour on scientific facts. This is not necessarily the case, even though we are all (over-) exposed to information flow through various channels of media, i.e. newspapers, television, radio, internet, and web. It is thought that this is mainly due to the conflicting information on the mass media and to the individual attitude (formed by cultural, educational and environmental factors), that is, one external factor and another personal factor. In this paper we will investigate the dynamical development of opinion in a small population of agents by means of a computational model of opinion formation in a co-evolving network of socially linked agents. The personal and external factors are taken into account by assigning an individual attitude parameter to each agent, and by subjecting all to an external but homogeneous field to simulate the effect of the media. We then adjust the field strength in the model by using actual data on scientific perception surveys carried out in two different populations, which allow us to compare two different societies. We interpret the model findings with the aid of simple mean field calculations. Our results suggest that scientifically sound concepts are more difficult to acquire than concepts not validated by science, since opposing individuals organize themselves in close communities that prevent opinion consensus.
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