Helping science succeed
Helping science succeed

Are conservatives less likely to trust science?

Is your political point of view related to how you view science? Perhaps. A recent study by Gordon Gauchat at the University of North Carolina’s Sheps Center for Health Services Research suggests that conservatives have steadily lost their faith in science over the last 36 years. Chris Mooney’s The Republican Brain, and The Republican War on Science also explore this and related issues.

This is an interesting topic but one that we should take care to approach with respect—not that Gauchat doesn’t, but many political observers on both sides tend to be dismissive. Different people see the world differently, obviously. And some of these difference are even rooted in measurably different personality types. When we are faced with reconciling opposing viewpoints in any other setting, the tools we employ usually don’t include ridicule and demagoguery, but they do include better communication. After all, when has understanding and agreement ever been reached by picking sides and applauding those who are clearly right and castigating those who are utterly wrong. Understanding that there are differences in how we all view the world and communicating across these differences is the only approach that actually builds respect, agreement, trust and progress.

Also, with regard to the the Gauchat study, it’s important to note that the definition of conservatism in American politics shifted markedly over the period in question with respect to social policy. Today’s self-defined conservatives are, as a group, much more religious than the self-defined conservatives of the 1970s, so this study may not actually be turning up any trends at all apart from the fact that religious groups wield more influence in politics today than they did in the 70s and that this influence has fueled the feedback loop of the role of religion in politics and politics in religion. What may be more telling in Gauchat’s data is that only 40% of moderates today trust science and only 50% of liberals, and that while these percentages have fluctuated slightly over the last 36 years, the long-term trendlines have not moved upward. Why? What does this mean?

In any case, more exploration of this subject is interesting and worthwhile.