The Dawkins effect? Celebrity scientists, (non)religious publics and changed attitudes to evolution

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

February 25, 2021


The role of science popularization remains relatively under-explored in research on contemporary public acceptance of evolution. In this study, we analyse national survey data to interrogate the role Britain’s best-known celebrity scientists David Attenborough, Brian Cox, Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking may have played in changing public views of evolution, as well as the role of two creationists: Ken Ham and Harun Yahya. We investigate how well known these public figures are, what their views of religion are perceived to be and, drawing on social identity theory, whether they exert different effects on attitudinal change to evolution among different religious and non-religious publics. Binary logistic regression analysis shows that among Muslim and Pentecostal Christian publics, those familiar with Dawkins as both a scientist and as someone who holds negative views of religion are more likely to have become less accepting of evolution. Conversely, among non-religious publics, Dawkins was the only celebrity scientist associated with higher odds of becoming more accepting of evolution. We suggest that engaging certain religious audiences with the science of evolutionary biology may be more effective when their religious identities are not threatened.

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Public Understanding of Science




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