Word choice matters: Comment on Stoutenborough et al. 2016, 'Is "fracking" a new dirty word?'

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Stoutenborough et al. [1] recently published an article in Energy Research and Social Science with data to show that use of the term ‘fracking’ versus ‘hydraulic fracturing’ matters little with regards to the level of concern elicited by this form of energy development. The authors conclude that word choice (or ‘framing’) of this form of unconventional fossil fuel development is ‘much ado about nothing’ and that ‘survey research into fracking need not overly worry about the choice of [word] strategy’ (p. 56). These inferences are problematic. First, despite the authors’ repeated claims that prior research has not explored differences in public attitudes on this issue when ‘fracking’ versus other language is used, prior research has examined this topic – via a very similar methodological approach – and generated opposite findings. One difference is that Stoutenborough et al. used ‘hydraulic fracturing’ as the alternative term, whereas the previous, similar study used ‘shale gas development’. I discuss why the different comparisons likely yielded divergent results. I further argue that the authors’ conclusions are unjustified and ill-advised based on the data from the two surveys in concert. Word choice does matter when discussing this issue; the word ‘fracking’ should be avoided.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-9
JournalEnergy Research & Social Science
Early online date29 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016


  • hydraulic fracturing
  • shale gas
  • framing
  • bias


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