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Author Topic: Has trust in science plunged among educated conservatives?  (Read 2858 times)

Gordian Knot

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Excerpt from this article:

Conservatives, particularly those with college educations, have become dramatically more skeptical of science over the past four decades, according to a study published in the April issue of the American Sociological Review. Fewer than 35 percent of conservatives say they have a "great deal" of trust in the scientific community now, compared to nearly half in 1974.

"The scientific community ... has been concerned about this growing distrust in the public with science. And what I found in the study is basically that's really not the problem. The growing distrust of science is entirely focused in two groups—conservatives and people who frequently attend church," says the study's author, University of North Carolina postdoctoral fellow Gordon Gauchat.


Full Article:
http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/study-trust-science-among-educated-conservatives-plunges-133908205.html

My reason for starting this thread is simple. Like many, I believed that mistrust in science was an outgrowth of decades of a poor educational system in the U.S. Too many people graduating our high schools were not prepared to function effectively in a 21st century environment. The less educated don't understand how science works and are more likely to distrust it as a consequence.

This article is a stunning, and frightening, revelation to me. If the results as reported are accurate, and the crusade against science is being led by the most educated of conservatives, that is very disturbing.

The article mentions Global Warming by name. That most conservatives do not believe in it, and because most of scientific research tends to find it true, trust in science declines.

This makes NO sense to me. I look at the times in the past I have not believed scientific conclusions and for me, it was always a suspicion of the reasons for the research, not a suspicion of science itself.

Tobacco use, for example. Studies funded by the big tobacco companies that always managed to conclude that there was no significant danger in smoking cigarettes. I didn't trust those studies. Anytime the group paying for the study has a desired outcome ahead of time is a source of distrust.

The response from me was to look for science that was done by more reputable groups.  Not to simply choose to distrust science itself.

So I am asking for opinions about all of this. How can educated people choose to not trust science just because its conclusions do not agree with their preferred world view?
« Last Edit: 03/04/2012 22:29:46 by chris »

Geezer

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It's certainly a serious problem. I have pretty strong views on the subject too, but I'm not sure we can solve it here.
 
Let's see how it goes, but if it becomes politico-religious, we'll have to move it to the chat room.

Don_1

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I think that’s precisely the way this is destined to go, Geezer.

Without doubt climate change caused by human activity will be unpopular among those who profit from the industries which contribute to the problem, whether they be CEO’s or employees of the companies or consumers of their products. It is easy to use research to your advantage, whether scientific, economic, historical or pretty much anything else, you simply make the most out of information which suits your desired result, play down and focus on any doubts surrounding that which does not. But this isn’t working so well with climate change, where the evidence against human causes is ever growing and dispute of that fact becoming more and more difficult to justify.

But there seems to be another way out of this and other concerns and it is probably as old as the human race itself. Religion. It appears that Christianity is on the increase in the USA and the spread of doubt of scientific research is in its sights.

New forms of Christianity, such as Scientology and Evangelism, have become increasingly the norm and are growing in popularity and wealth. It seems that ‘the meek shall inherit the Earth’ and such like Biblical procrastinations have been replaced with a more active psyche of ‘the powerful and wealthy shall inherit the Earth’. A stance which is almost bound to attract the powerful and the wealthy. These so-called ‘churches’ are managing to convince their followers to donate great sums of money to their cause, which only serves to enable them to be able to afford to recruit still more followers. Though, as a by-product, they also ensure the ‘church’ leaders become extremely wealthy and in today’s society, wealth equates to power.

I fear that one of the modern world’s greatest nations in technology and scientific research is being lead down a path back into the dark ages. Unfortunately, politicians have allowed this scenario to arise and prosper and now politics has become embroiled in religion. To hear American politicians speak of success with the ‘will of God’ to rapturous applause, makes me cringe.

Kick religion out of politics and perhaps the USA might be in with a chance of a return to the straight and narrow and resurrect their faith in science and the real world.

graham.d

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It is quite hard to understand how a large, technologically advanced country like the USA can adopt such a view of science and have such distrust in scientific methods. There may have been, and maybe still are, problems with the education system in the USA but I think that this is reflected in many places in the world without such consequences. Political opinion seems to be set in people in an independent way from their level of education and, indeed, from their intelligence and ability. And even with this political bias, which maybe partially innate and partially learnt, it seems people do not necessarily have a view on any one subject that falls consistantly in one direction. This is particularly true in this case where it is hard to fathom why conservatives would mistrust science more than liberals; during the cold war it was more the other way about for example.

People are hugely influenced by how information is presented to them. A crude example would be how, in the former USSR, the news would never present the word "America" without the word "capitalist" used in a derogatory way. The meaning of the words "American running dogs" in Communist China may be lost to those in the west but it carried a weight of meaning and influence in the places it was used. And don't think we are free of such things here; when there is some suicide bomb it is usually "Muslim extremists" who are responsible. It is not that there is a conscious intention to associate the words "Muslim" and "extremist", but the two things get associated in people's minds.

In the USA, the media is largely, though not exclusively, controlled by the conservative right. These people are not, for the most part, intentionally biassing their reporting (except, perhaps, for Fox) but they will be doing so unconsciously. If they want to know how much burning fossil fuels are damaging the environment they will ceratainly listen to both green activists (usually having long hair and wearing sandals) and a smart, eloquent lady/gent representing, say, the oil industry. They almost don't have to comment.

Most people regard Canada as being very ecologically sound (as nations go), and not especially religious, but then it is interesting to see that a majority of Canadians also do not believe in man-made global warming. Could it have something to do with Canada being the largest exporter of oil into the USA (and the USA's largest supplier)? You won't find many Canadians who even realise this but, nonetheless, they have an opinion that benefits the national economy and business interests. They can only be influenced by the information they receive from the media and the media, in turn, influenced by those who provide the data to them.



Gordian Knot

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I understand the quagmire this topic could become, and actually I have been wrestling with posting it from the moment the report came out.

But I also thought it was a pressing topic that deserved attention. What could be more germane to a science forum than a discussion of whether or not science has become dysfunctional! At least in the eyes of a considerable portion of our population.

And while I never expected to solve it here, my hope was that we might at least be able to come to some understanding of what is happening. An insight into the minds of those who have chosen to ignore science because what it tells them is inconvenient.

Which is why I am trying to focus on the process of how people think and why they think in that way.

CliffordK

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Whew...  a big topic.

Perhaps the 20th century will be known as the century of science & engineering revolution.  The belief that we could build anything, discover anything, etc.  And, humanity made huge leaps ahead. 
Of course the 20th century was also the century when the Unsinkable Ship Sunk!!!

The 21st century?  Well, perhaps we'll begin with our own Titanic.

I suppose that I find it difficult to understand how a person can believe in "progress", without also believing in "science".  Perhaps that is a PR issue for scientists.  Rather than hiding in laboratories mixing potions, they need to get out on the street and emphasize to people that everything that we take for granted today (plastics, fuels, medications, engines, microwaves, digital clocks....  you name it)...  is all based on SCIENCE.

The global warming issue is a big issue...  and one heck of a quagmire. 

Perhaps scientists should actually try to stay out of politics!!!  Although, what happens is that the press and popular media takes the basic scientific research far out of context.  Perhaps it is an education thing. 

A 1% difference between groups A & B can be statistically significant, and thus a valid scientific conclusion. 

The problem is that people tend to confuse a statistically significant association with "ALL".  And, that is one thing that education can do better with.

So, suddenly every hot day is caused by Global Warming.  Even the cold days are caused by global warming.  Every storm, every flood, yep, all global warming.  Not to mention that we've had bigger storms and floods in the past, and the sea level has been rising for the last 14,000 years, but the current storms, floods, and sea level rise, must all be CAUSED by global warming from CO2.

David Cooper

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The key word is "Conservatives" - people who in general are selfish (although there are many others who are Conservatives because they want the economy to be run well and you tend to get more competent politicians in that regard if they're selfish). They don't care about the future beyond their own deaths, and they don't care about the world's poor who will be affected first and worst. They also tend to believe that God is going to step in and fix everything, if necessary by taking all the believers up into heaven, so why should they worry about anything? The science of global warming is just an irritation to them, making them feel bad about all the driving and flying they do, so the easiest way to deal with that is to reject the science, and the justification for doing so is easy to find: God wants whatever's coming to happen and that no one needs to interfere with that.

Geezer

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Yes - I'm afraid the outlook is bleak. The sad thing is that the US is based on the notion of keeping religion out of government, but there is a huge push to reverse that position.
 
I'm thinking of starting a campaign to demand that, if the goverment gets into religion, we should re-establish the monarchy in the US while we are at it!
 
(I'm not serious of course, but it might be a good talking point to get people's attention - I might just put in the local paper, although I'm a bit concerned about people showing up outside my house with pitchforks and the like.)

CliffordK

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At least we're not quite at the level of some nations where they only have the
Sunni Party
Shiite Party
Kurd Party
Not to mention, of course, that they are all Muslims.

I find it distressing that some polls indicate that there are people who would never vote for an atheist president.  I suppose I don't care about an individual's religion as long as it doesn't interfere with their work.  But, I also believe that one of the US political parties has taken religiosity to such an extreme that I would have difficulty supporting their candidates no matter what other principles they might have.

JP

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I think we just need to make a law that if you selectively reject science, you lose the right to benefit from it--all of it.

grizelda

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Re: Has trust in science plunged among educated conservatives?
« Reply #10 on: 04/04/2012 03:07:03 »
As pointed out in "Guns, Germs, and Steel" the religion of Europe was unable to overcome the geographical barriers Europe presented and so was unable to prevent science from becoming dominant. In all other geographical areas, the state religion was able to suppress scientific reality, leading to the dominance of Europe. Today the state religion is political correctness, and its pagan priests demand acquiescence to their eugenic agenda, to breed you into the slave state all religions have always aspired to. No place to hide now. Hand over your passwords.

Nizzle

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Re: Has trust in science plunged among educated conservatives?
« Reply #11 on: 04/04/2012 09:01:24 »
As pointed out in "Guns, Germs, and Steel" the religion of Europe was unable to overcome the geographical barriers Europe presented and so was unable to prevent science from becoming dominant. In all other geographical areas, the state religion was able to suppress scientific reality, leading to the dominance of Europe. Today the state religion is political correctness, and its pagan priests demand acquiescence to their eugenic agenda, to breed you into the slave state all religions have always aspired to. No place to hide now. Hand over your passwords.

I don't know grizelda.. Ever heard of the ~700 year period called "Dark Ages"? Science was pretty much oppressed in Western Europe between Roman Empire and Renaissance.

It's a shame that people are losing their trust in Science, but is it my perception, or is it fact that this only occurs in USA, and not in Europe?
In the Netherlands, there's even a Scientific Counsel, which is an advisory board for the government..
« Last Edit: 04/04/2012 09:03:45 by Nizzle »

Gordian Knot

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Re: Has trust in science plunged among educated conservatives?
« Reply #12 on: 04/04/2012 14:14:24 »
Yet this from the very end of the article:

Gauchat says he's done other analyses that show in Europe, the trend is flipped on its head. Liberals show a greater distrust of the scientific community.

The author believes trust is tied directly to what the major issues are in each area. <shrug>

wolfekeeper

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Re: Has trust in science plunged among educated conservatives?
« Reply #13 on: 04/04/2012 21:54:42 »
I think that a lot of the problems is the particular types of people that seek public office. There's always going to be some that deny reality in any sphere of life, and if enough of them are motivated to join the political process, then you get what you see in far right Conservatives in America, and (apparently it is alleged here) liberals in Europe.

Basically, these guys join, and pick up some support from similar voters, and it poisons the well. People that don't believe in the rubbish, have to appear to believe, in order that they achieve elected office, and it spirals.

Geezer

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Re: Has trust in science plunged among educated conservatives?
« Reply #14 on: 04/04/2012 22:50:19 »
Mind you, I think JP's got the right idea.
 
Let's see. No -
 
Antibiotics
X-rays
Synthetic drugs of any sort
TV
Internet
Computers
Plastics
Gasoline
GPS
Synthetic material
Most metals
Cell phones -Yeah!
Any telephones
Synthetic dyes
Most inks
Aeroplanes
 
 

CliffordK

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Re: Has trust in science plunged among educated conservatives?
« Reply #15 on: 05/04/2012 05:06:32 »
Let's see. No -

Synthetic drugs of any sort
Most metals
Most inks

Let's see...
I can chew on Willow Bark if I get a headache.
And some Cascara Bark would be great if I feel a bit stopped up.

Certainly Gold is found in metallic form ;D
Copper has been smelted by the ancients, as well as later the production of copper alloys.
And, of course Iron. 
Most of the early iron production would have involved adding carbon, although the practice would have been improved with time.

Ink?
Dyes, pigments, and writing have been around for thousands of years.  And, I have a good supply of Turkey Feathers for writing with ;)

Now, if I could just find some good whale oil for my reading lamp  ::)

Gordian Knot

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Re: Has trust in science plunged among educated conservatives?
« Reply #16 on: 09/04/2012 17:30:37 »
Stripped of political view, it seems to me the bottom line of this article is this. The article seems to suggest that a large number of people choose to trust science depending solely on whether science is telling them what they want to believe.

That trust in science has swung across the political and social spectrum over the past few decades seems to support this. And I find it of particular importance. Nonscientists, apparently are not capable, or at least are not willing to, trust that the scientific method is free of bias.

I don't know if this is because, even amongst educated people, the understanding of how the scientific method works is minimal. Though that makes sense to me.

If that is true, then a lot of the blame has to fall on the scientific community for not educating the public better. It is my perception that a great many people perceive science as a group of ivory tower types locked away from the rest of us.

Maybe science needs to hire a PR firm. I'm only half joking!

graham.d

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Re: Has trust in science plunged among educated conservatives?
« Reply #17 on: 11/04/2012 14:47:53 »
The scientific method, if applied rigorously, can be trusted. Strictly, science can only say what will not work and just give a directional guide on what might work. But engineering and/or political decisions still have to be made and scientists, like many others, are apt to favour their own theories; and a few with a messianic fervour. This gives a general impression of certainty, which is not what science should really convey. Just to get funding, some scientists probably have to exaggerate to an extent. Also there is political maneuvering within the science community and by those outside science who may benefit from such exaggeration or may simply just not understand the limitations of any claim. I would not be too hard on people in general - there are lots of forces at work here and much is down to human nature.

imatfaal

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Re: Has trust in science plunged among educated conservatives?
« Reply #18 on: 11/04/2012 16:15:43 »
I think the answer to the OP is yes.

National Centre for Science Education Blog
The bill


Tennessee has just completed legislative process to enact law to encourage/allow teachers to treat evolution/chemical basis for life etc as unsettled questions - and to teach the debate! Of course, it isn't a religiously inspired law (my keyboard started smoking with the sheer chutzpah of typing that).

Here is a very balanced letter from the AAAS written prior the bill passing into law

CliffordK

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Re: Has trust in science plunged among educated conservatives?
« Reply #19 on: 11/04/2012 17:12:34 »
What about modelling & science?

With weather, it is easy to model...  well, relatively easy.  Make the model.  A week later, check out the model and see how well it did.

With climate, it is not so easy, as the verification of the model may be decades in the future.
For example, trying to determine whether one will have a wetter or drier climate with global warming. 
For weather, we know Hot-Dry, Cool-Wet.  But, applying that to global climate change is far more difficult as warmth also brings more evaporation from the oceans as well as greater moisture carrying capacity of the air.  Likely some places will get more rain, other places will have the rain pass over them (more often).

More effort needs to be put into paleoclimatology, which is certainly difficult, but, for example, there are indications that during warmer periods there is actually a general expansion of the tropical forests, and during cooler periods, an contraction of the tropical forests, and increase of savannah. 

As far as physics, quantum mechanics, and strings....  Anything that can be thunk up doesn't make it necessarily true.

Geezer

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Re: Has trust in science plunged among educated conservatives?
« Reply #20 on: 11/04/2012 17:51:36 »
I think the answer to the OP is yes.

National Centre for Science Education Blog
The bill


Tennessee has just completed legislative process to enact law to encourage/allow teachers to treat evolution/chemical basis for life etc as unsettled questions - and to teach the debate! Of course, it isn't a religiously inspired law (my keyboard started smoking with the sheer chutzpah of typing that).

Here is a very balanced letter from the AAAS written prior the bill passing into law

Yup! That's when I have to reach for my blood pressure medication!
 
It's one thing to be ignorant of science, but it's another thing to deliberately distort it because it doesn't happen to align with your religious convictions. Sadly, there are a great many people in the US who are quite prepared to do that.

Gordian Knot

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Re: Has trust in science plunged among educated conservatives?
« Reply #21 on: 13/04/2012 14:42:14 »
Graham said "I would not be too hard on people in general - there are lots of forces at work here and much is down to human nature."

Graham I would agree with you if not for one thing. The percentage of people who DO believe in pseudo "sciences". Everything from Alien visitations to astrology, psychic powers to seances. A significantly larger number of people believe in the fake sciences than the real sciences. Again, I have to believe there is a reason for that.

In one of Carl Sagan's books I recall a story he told. He was taking a taxi and was having a chat with the driver. The driver recognized Sagan and asked if he could have a talk with him about science. Sagan, of course, agreed. Without going into a long story, essentially this taxi driver talked about nothing but pseudo sciences. Sagan patiently explained the fallacies in each one and by the time he left the cab, the driver was rather crestfallen and frustrated.

Sagan pointed out that here was a guy who had an inquiring mind and wanted to learn. But all he had ever heard about was pseudo science. Sagan concluded that science had failed that man.

I will never forget that story as it seems to be a direct correlation to the lack of trust in science to this day.

graham.d

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Re: Has trust in science plunged among educated conservatives?
« Reply #22 on: 16/04/2012 19:23:01 »
I hadn't heard the Sagan story - hmm, yes! I tend to agree that science has failed man. That was what I was meaning when I said not being too hard on people in general. But it is not necessarily a scientists job to be his profession's PR person. For the most part scientists are not good at that (obviously with some well known exceptions, incuding Sagan). So it is not the fault of science itself that it is not self promoting. People like magic and quick fixes so magic crystals and astrology get better promoted by the snake oil salesmen.

I guess I think it needs some sort of groundswell of opinion that drives the politicians to get the kudos (and votes) from backing science and the media to be more in tune with science. The whole concept would then take off. It is hard to see how this might happen but it is good justification for exciting, and often expensive, programs like the space race. It then creates the role models for young people and a degree of desire to know how things work. Even good SciFi helps.  Unfortunately CERN does not usually qualify as exciting to the average punter and any idea of commercial Fusion power being available has passed its sell-by date - Oh yes, in (a rolling) 20 years time!

CliffordK

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Re: Has trust in science plunged among educated conservatives?
« Reply #23 on: 16/04/2012 22:20:34 »
Hmmm...  Bashing atoms? 
Who can use the biggest and most expensive piece of equipment to smash up the smallest things?

The point is that science, technology, medicine, and etc, are all intertwined.  If a person believes in "progress", then they believe in "science".

Gordian Knot

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Re: Has trust in science plunged among educated conservatives?
« Reply #24 on: 17/04/2012 00:18:16 »

The point is that science, technology, medicine, and etc, are all intertwined.  If a person believes in "progress", then they believe in "science".

Clifford you do not seem to appreciate the enormity of people's ability to compartmentalize! lol.

 

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