Chris Mooney hypothesized that Republicans are “at war with science,” and wrote a book about it. A new study (pdf) (by a scientist, of course) confirms his hypothesis. Conservatives distrust science, and the more education they have, the greater their distrust.
The difference between liberals and conservatives on this point is large and getting larger, as the following chart from the study shows. You’ll notice that both liberals and conservatives started out in the same place back in 1974, which also coincides with the beginning of the Great Divergence.
Mother Jones‘ Kevin Drum includes an excerpt from the report:
Conservatives with high school degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and graduate degrees all experienced greater distrust in science over time….In addition…conservatives with college degrees decline more quickly than those with only a high school degree. These results are quite profound, because they imply that conservative discontent with science was not attributable to the uneducated but to rising distrust among educated conservatives.
My first reaction was to question the definition of educated. It seems to me that one characteristic of a formally educated person is both knowledge of and appreciation for science in the broadest sense. That would include familiarity with such topics as Newton’s Laws of Motion, gravity, Einstein’s theories of relativity, evolution, and, more recently, global warming.
Now it may be the case that conservatives with college degrees are indeed familiar with these concepts. Rather, they don’t trust their underlying science or those who study them. And the more conservatives may learn, the more they distrust. From the study:
Two interesting patterns from these supplementary analyses are worth mentioning. First, the public defines “what science is” in three distinct ways: (1) as an abstract method (e.g., replication, empirical, or unbiased); (2) as a cultural location (e.g., takes place in a university or is practiced by highly credentialed individuals); and (3) as one form of knowledge among other types such as commonsense and religious tradition. Interestingly, conservatives were far more likely to define science as knowledge that should conform to common sense and religious tradition. Relating to the second pattern, when examining a series of public attitudes toward science, conservatives’ unfavorable attitudes are most acute in relation to government funding of science and the use of scientific knowledge to influence social policy. Conservatives thus appear especially averse to regulatory science, defined here as the mutual dependence of organized science and government policy [my emphasis].
I’ll offer my speculative two cents.
It’s been suggested that conservatism is a reaction to both liberalism and modernism. Liberals, as a rule, are far more likely to “trust” science; and it’s true that most academic faculty are liberals. Does the latter mean that colleges select for liberalism? Or is it the case that liberalism and intellectualism, including scientific inquiry, go together? Regardless, and I think it’s more about the correlation rather than the doubtful selectiveness, conservatives don’t like liberals. Insofar as most scientists are liberals, conservatives distrust science.
If the conservatives should gain further electoral victories in November, the nation will step closer to the following outcomes:
- abolishment of EPA and NASA (a bunch of go-gooder scientists)
- cuts in government funding of research (why help out liberals?)
- repeal of environmental regulations, including EPA’s recent carbon restrictions
- prayer and creation “science” in public education
- a new law equating abortion with murder, with all the attendant effects
- federal subsidies to private Christian schools (no money for Muslims)
- repeal of Obamacare, if the Supreme Court doesn’t beat them to it
- carbon dioxide will be declared a “good” gas, not to be curtailed
There would be lots of other crap, too. Be my guest in adding to the list.