Politically conservative Americans have lost trust in science over the last 40 years while moderates and liberals have remained constant in the stock they put in the scientific community, a new study finds.
The most educated conservatives have slipped the most, according to the research set to appear in the April issue of the journal American Sociological Review. The change in conservative attitudes likely has to do both with changes in the conservative movement and with changes in science’s role in society, said study author Gordon Gaulet, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Liberals had the most trust in science as a whole over the survey period (1974 to 2010), with 47 percent reporting a “great deal” of trust on average, while moderates were the most consistently skeptical of science, with 42 percent trusting the scientific community a great deal. (The moderates in the survey tended to have the least understanding of science as any group, possibly explaining the finding, Gaulet said.) An average of 43 percent of conservatives said they trusted scientists a great deal over the study period.
But only conservatives showed a change over time. At the beginning of the survey, in the 1970s, conservatives trusted science more than anyone, with about 48 percent evincing a great deal of trust. By 2010, the last year survey data was available, only 35 percent of conservatives said the same.
Tip: @LiveScience via Twitter
Oh. Dear. This survey, from what is summarized in this article, is a hot mess. I hate to speculate, not having seen the survey results and the way the questions were phrased, but being familiar with science and policy issues, I believe we have a highly complicated issue shoe-horned into some catch-all questions. People’s ideas about science are more complicated than that. Please don’t put too much stock in this but take away the big picture instead.
The comments to this post on Live Science IMMEDIATELY descend into hot button issues like climate change and creationism. But a pertinent comment noted that everyone likes science when it’s on their side. Very true. Even conservatives will try to get credentialed scientists to vouch for their viewpoints. Science is a pawn these days, which does suggest that it is VALUABLE as something to have for support for your cause. On the other hand, just the value judgements imposed upon it show how terribly the American people misunderstand it and wish to manipulate it for their own purposes.
Enough opinionating. There is more here than I can put in a commentary blurb… but there is much to take away from this. It is not good. Not good at all. But, it’s raw material to work with in regards to American ideas about what science is and how it might be used.
UPDATE (1-April-2012): I read the Gauchat paper and found it highly interesting and well done. See my comments below. However, this article from LiveScience rubbed me the wrong way. I suppose this issue is so complicated that it can’t be taken away in a snapshot. That’s was irked me – that people would not understand the nuances that are present here and just say Oh, Republicans hate science. That’s not it. Most often, the story is far more complicated than that. And, yes, LiveScience did get the name wrong.
UPDATE (2-April-2012) Chris Mooney distills the results in Salon.