Science is not an opinion

Many risk assessment organisations are challenged by lay-people saying that their statements are “just an opinion”. Problem is that, in science, there is always scientific uncertainty and that a scientist can never rule out a statement by an adversary with complete certainty. Upon which the adversary may frame the conclusions resulting an extensive line of research as a personal viewpoint of the scientist.

This issue is extremely relevant to the WHO who is worried about the decline in the willingness to vaccinate. The WHO recognized that scientists are not that good in refuting the (ungrounded) arguments of the anti-vaccine movement and, in 2016, they published a report with best practice advice on how to respond to vocal vaccine deniers in public.

 Research question

The report by the WHO focused on vaccines and the anti-vaccine movement and media interviews. The question is whether the advice might also be effective in countering the impact of “just-an-opinion message” in other disciplines and in social media channels like Facebook and Twitter.

The assignment is thus to investigate whether the advice by the WHO on scientific uncertainty in relation to a risk topic affects the public’s risk perception and attitudes.


The topic of the research question will be specified in consultation with the student. The topic should relate to a research theme within the Department of Psychology of Conflict, Risk and Safety, preferably one that focuses on risk perception and communication.

Research method

An online experiment seems to be the most obvious way to answer the research question.


The data of this study will be analysed by quantitative data analysis programmes such as SPSS or R.


World Health Organization (2017).  How to respond to vocal vaccine deniers in public: Best practice guidance. WHO, 2017.


Are you interested in this topic for your thesis? Please contact the BA-Thesis coordinator Jan Gutteling (