Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
United States Politics Science

Conservatives' Trust In Science Has Fallen Dramatically Since Mid-1970s 1128

An anonymous reader writes "While trust in science remained stable among people who self-identified as moderates and liberals in the United States between 1974 and 2010, trust in science fell among self-identified conservatives by more than 25 percent during the same period, according to a study by the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. 'Over the last several decades, there's been an effort among those who define themselves as conservatives to clearly identify what it means to be a conservative,' said the study's lead author. 'For whatever reason, this appears to involve opposing science and universities and what is perceived as the "liberal culture." So, self-identified conservatives seem to lump these groups together and rally around the notion that what makes "us" conservatives is that we don't agree with "them."'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Conservatives' Trust In Science Has Fallen Dramatically Since Mid-1970s

Comments Filter:
  • by concealment ( 2447304 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @10:27AM (#39509139) Homepage Journal

    This article is about conservatives trying to brand themselves.

    They want to find out what liberals support, and be the opposite. Since liberals seem to like science, and it seems to conflict with religion to some people(*), conservatives are rebelling against that.

    What "science" actually is has nothing to do with the conservative view, or the liberal one(+).

    The real problem that conservatives face here is that their strategy is silly. Defining yourself by what your enemies do will not work. It leaves you open to manipulation and getting backed into a corner. I think that's what is happening here.


    * - I don't think this is true at all. Religion is metaphysical poetry, science is its physical counterpart.

    + - I don't believe that "reality has a liberal bias." Reality has a reality bias. It's pointlessly combative to claim that all conservatives are detached from reality (or all liberals)

  • Trust?? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrquagmire ( 2326560 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @10:28AM (#39509153)
    There is no "trust" in science - there is nothing to "believe." Science is just the application of logic and reason to help explain the world around us. So what this article is really saying is that "Conservatives view of the world has dramatically departed reality since 1970." Which sounds pretty plausible to me.

    "The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it.” -Neil DeGrasse Tyson
    • Re:Trust?? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by SuiteSisterMary ( 123932 ) <slebrun@[ ] ['gma' in gap]> on Thursday March 29, 2012 @10:37AM (#39509347) Journal
      I'd dispute that. There is trust in science; more accurately, there is trust in scientists. I can go into my garage, and replicate all sorts of experiements. Tyson had a wonderful essay, called something like 'stick in the mud science' about all of the things you can figure out with a stick, a string, and a rock. However, I can't go into my garage and duplicate most particle physics. Genetics. Medicine. All sorts of stuff. That stuff, I have to take on trust. Note, I don't say 'faith.' I prefer to use the term 'confidence.' One has faith in one's god, one has confidence in scientific consensus.
      • Re:Trust?? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @11:18AM (#39510167) Homepage

        The point is, that we don't have to trust in science, if we make use of the technologies that have come out of that science.

        I mean, we can certainly test that if you throw a rock into the air, it comes back down.

        But any time you make use of a technology, you're testing the science behind the technology and demanding that it work well enough so the technology will function. If you boot a computer, order for the microchip to function it needs electricity to behave in a certain way around semiconductors, which means the quantum physics has to be reasonably close to accurate. Same story with taking medication - you're testing, by taking the medication, whether the science is good enough that the medication will do what scientists think it will do (and sometimes finding the scientists were wrong). And every time you start up your car you're testing that the chemistry that makes an internal combustion engine work does in fact work the way we think it is.

    • Re:Trust?? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by wiggles ( 30088 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @10:43AM (#39509477)

      >There is no "trust" in science - there is nothing to "believe."

      Close, but you're missing the point. Science is not the natural laws of the universe, science is the study of those laws, and it's scientists (in the mind of conservatives, think of them as 'people who claim to know more than the rest of us') that conservatives don't trust. In order for someone to believe you're telling the truth, they have to trust you. If they don't trust scientists to tell them the truth, then science itself becomes untrusted. In the Conservative vs. Liberal wars, we have two camps that each consist of leaders and followers. Followers follow the leaders, not because they always agree with them, but because they **trust** them. Is that trust misplaced? Possibly, on both sides.

      Want to know why self-proclaimed Conservatives oppose things like the health care law? It's not because they won't benefit (obviously they will benefit in far greater numbers than more wealthy liberals), it's because it's been successfully branded 'Obamacare', and they simply do not trust Barack Obama to do anything that won't hurt them. His image, to them, is that of a subversive radical Muslim (who wasn't even born here) who is trying to take over the country, and must be stopped at all costs. It has nothing to do with the fact that they can't get insurance, can't get healthcare, whatever. The issues don't matter, it's the image that counts.

    • by Maximum Prophet ( 716608 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @11:22AM (#39510249)
      There *is* trust in science, i.e. that the scientific method is valid. We say that if a experiment is repeatable enough times, that we have a valid test of truth. We assume that nature isn't completely capricious and random. i.e. If Zeus were throwing the lightning bolts around, he might avoid the buildings with lightnings rods just because he wants to, but still occasionally blast one or two just because he was feeling ornery.

      We have trust in Occam's razor. "other things being equal, a simpler explanation is better than a more complex one." Most of the time that works for us, but as H. L. Mencken is quoted: "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong."

      Recently there was a astrophysist that suggested that billions of years ago some scientific constants like the charge on the electron were subtlely different. If these constants drifted in a consistent fashion, we might be able to develop a theory that properly describes the universe. This is one explaination why there's no detected life far away, it just wasn't possible until now.

      If, on the other hand, right after the Big Bang, the various universal constants bounced around, then there's not much hope we could ever properly describe what happened or predict what will happen.

      For now, we trust the scientific method because it works better than praying to Zeus. If something comes along that works even better than science, we should switch to it. (But I'm sure some people will stick with science for awhile)
  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @10:30AM (#39509213) Journal
    but the neo-conseravatives. There are many conservatives that do not subscribe to the following of reagan and W. Basically, it is these 2 and their followers that fight against science, logic and facts. You will find that nearly all support the concept of creationism, fight against the idea that Global Climate Change is cause by man.
    They will argue that Russia is enemy #1 and claim support for private enterprise, but then push for the Space Launch System (in which CONgress, mostly neo-cons designate WHICH companies will provide WHICH parts for a shuttle derivative and costing us 60 billion), push for us to be reliant on Russia for another decade of rocket launches and works to destroy private space.
    Likewise, they will argue that Corporations should be ONLY for making profits and have absolutely no conscience, but then want them to be able to lobby, influence congress, and some have said that they want to give them a vote. Yet, at the same time, they scream that society is broken morally.

    This lack of logic continues over and over and over. It has become a broken record with the no-cons.

    OTOH, many conservatives and real republicans fully support science, logic, etc. and what can be learned from it. Sadly, they are now a minority of the republican party. Many of them are driven out with the neo-cons screaming that those ppl are RINOs and are actually liberals. Sad that America has sunk this low.
    • by NeutronCowboy ( 896098 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @11:34AM (#39510465)

      OTOH, many conservatives and real republicans fully support science, logic, etc. and what can be learned from it. Sadly, they are now a minority of the republican party. Many of them are driven out with the neo-cons screaming that those ppl are RINOs and are actually liberals. Sad that America has sunk this low.

      This. Technically, I should vote republican every time. I believe in a balanced budget, frugal spending priorities, and a limited government. However, what I get from republican candidates is God, wars on xxx, politically motivated spending projects and the attitude that if you're not with us, you're a terrorist.

      No thanks.

  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @10:30AM (#39509217)

    âoeThere is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.â
    Isaac Asimov

    "It isn't what we don't know that gives us trouble, it's what we know that ain't so."
    Will Rogers

    "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it."
    Upton Sinclair

    "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."
    Stephen Colbert

    I have a little something I call the parable of the investment opportunity. Dick has the option of investing in this exciting new product that promises to double his money in twelve months. Jane is skeptical. The two can jawbone back and forth all day long.

    Jane explains that it looks like a bad idea, resembles many other bad ideas, the person presenting the opportunity has a history of failed schemes, and the whole thing looks too risky.

    Dick feels she's being too negative. She's not embracing opportunity. He has a prospectus printed in full color on expensive paper and the pitchman has such a nice haircut, really looks like someone you could do business with.

    It's impossible to know how the investment will turn out until it's made, even if anyone watching the two of them argue will more than likely have a strong opinion before long.

    Dick makes the investment. Twelve months later, he's lost all his money. Not only that but he's lost it in exactly the way Jane predicted, for the reasons she listed.

    Now for most people, this would be some pretty compelling evidence. Not so for Dick! Perhaps it wasn't a bad idea, he just didn't apply it with enough vigor. Perhaps there was an external factor that sabotaged what was otherwise a sound idea. Does he reevaluate? Does he reexamine? No, he'll double-down. And Jane is still an ignorant slut.

  • by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @10:31AM (#39509243)

    I'd identify myself as conservative, and at least in my case my trust in science has not decreased. That said, my trust in the scientific community has certainly decreased in the last decade or two. Of course, I could say the same about humanity as a whole. I wasn't even born by the 1970s, so most of my decreasing trust could probably be attributed to simply growing up and realizing that the world is filled with people on all sides who have agendas.

  • Seems reasonable (Score:4, Insightful)

    by million_monkeys ( 2480792 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @10:32AM (#39509249)

    'conservative' means different things to different people, but checking the dictionary gives this definition: "disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change."

    I think most people agree science is a driving force for change, whether through application of new knowledge or development of new technology. So, at least based on the definition above, science directly opposes conservative goals. It's not surprising for people to distrust something that actively threatens their ideology.

  • by Stargoat ( 658863 ) * <> on Thursday March 29, 2012 @10:33AM (#39509273) Journal

    This has been gradually leading up for a century and more. Conservatives have always been doubtful of science, preferring to believe what they had been told in their youth. For them, it is easier to believe in the mad ramblings of an old book than a system of thought that has borne the fruit of progress for four centuries. There is no fundamental difference between the Catholic Church's assaults on Giordano Bruno and Galileo and the Evangelical assault on Evolution in schools. (For people who condemn Popery so strongly, this is especially amusing.) That there was ever an embrace of science on the conservative side only reflects the reality of the world as was discovered in the Second World War. That is to say, even the most stupid of Evangelicals must acknowledge we are better off with atomic bombs and ICMBs than without. Of course, it might be acknowledged that this is only an extension of the conservative love of spreading doctrine through violence rather than rhetoric and scientific persuasion.

    Yes, the ones who call themselves liberals have their own problems with science. The stupid stupid lies of postmodernist thought destroyed a generation and a half of potential scientists, but the important thing is that science is pulling away from that abhorrent clap trap.

  • Trust on Science? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by luis_a_espinal ( 1810296 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @10:34AM (#39509285) Homepage
    Obligatory xkcd - []
  • Prior Art (Score:4, Informative)

    by carrier lost ( 222597 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @10:36AM (#39509309) Homepage

    Wait a minute. Hasn't this been going on at least since Galileo?

  • Religion is why (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sir_Eptishous ( 873977 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @10:37AM (#39509349) Homepage
    We all know the "reason" for this... Religion. Lets just call it like it is. The Judaeo-Christian worldview is by-and-large anti-science. I don't think it set out to be that way though, but more as a reflection of 1st millennium B.C. thinking. Nothing unusual in the stories from the Old Testament, when taken in the context of their times. However, Mankind(and Man) has learned and experienced quite a lot since 1000 B.C. The interesting thing, in a terrifying way(Al Qaida, Iran, Evangelical Christians, etc;) is that even with the benefits of science staring them in the face, people still take these Iron Age myths as The Truth.

    Your typical liberal has more of a "critical thinking" worldview, maybe not much more, but enough to tip the balance away from "Doctrines and Covenants" that require a suspension of dis-belief, require blind faith.

    So the question is, why are conservatives NOW so anti-science, when even a generation or two ago it wasn't like that? Well, we all know the answer to that as well, which is a combination of Right-Wing Media, the ease of dis-information via The Internet, and a Republican party that has poly morphed into something very different from the Republican party of even the 1980's.

    Another key ingredient is that conservatives in general have a "good old days" mentality. They seek to attempt to go back to how things used to be, when things "appeared" simpler, when there was "order" in the world, etc;. We all know that is utter bullshit, and there is no "going home" as it were. Liberals are more apt to embrace change and understand we had to adapt to the changing world, not get the world to adapt to us.
  • by tekrat ( 242117 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @10:43AM (#39509489) Homepage Journal

    "Conservatives" sure do seem to trust science when they get cancer, or need an operation. Then all of a sudden, there aren't enough medical advances to suit them. They'll shell out tons of cash to extend their lives just a wee bit more.

    Dick Cheney just had a heart transplant, and the donor was probably some guy he shot in the face. Tell me Dick Cheney doesn't "trust science" when it comes to keeping him alive.

  • Fact vs. Opinion (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @10:49AM (#39509605)

    I dislike tobacco. I don't like the smoke, I don't like the spitting, I don't like the spent butts littering the roadway.

    All of that is personal opinion, no different from disliking the appearance of people chewing gum or getting it stuck on my shoe.

    Neither is enough to permit me to get my dander up and start banning this and that. I could ask someone not to smoke upwind of me and that's just a question of common courtesy.

    That's all anyone could say about tobacco for a number of years. Doctors suspected health effects but it took time to properly substantiate those suspicions.

    Of course, the people making money from tobacco had a great interest in keeping the controversy alive. It's not good for business to admit that your product, when used as directed, will kill people. The only way a smoker won't die of smoking-related causes is if he dies of something else first.

    As someone who tobacco to begin with, now science is on my side. How far can I push with regards to tobacco? If we consider that a person has a right to do what they want to their own body, up to and including suicide, then who are we to argue as to how they do it?

    At the same time, we know that advertising works. Billions of dollars don't get spent on marketing if it doesn't influence decision-making in the human animal. So are these people really making a choice for themselves?

    I'm not a supporter of the way the temperance movement operated back in the day. I like having my wine and beer. Temperance crusaders can point to the dangers of alcohol consumption. I could argue that you can drink in moderation with no ill effects whereas there's no safe level of tobacco consumption but that could sound like rationalization.

    I think as far as my own opinion goes, the tobacco companies deliberately prevented their customers from making an informed choice. They did their best to cloud the discussion with bad science, bad data, and deliberate lies and bullshit. They prevented a rational discussion from ever occurring because it would be bad for business.

    Look at the current scientific "controversies" and you will see the same thing happening, parties interested in the status quo doing their best to create uncertainty where there is actually a great deal of scientific certainty.

  • by dcbrianw ( 1154925 ) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @01:10PM (#39512061)
    As a conservative and a catholic who has spent 14 years working as a software engineer and has some limited public policy background, I think I have a perspective worth sharing on this topic.

    The headline doesn't surprise me at all, but I think some of the conclusions about why stem from speculation on stereotypes rather than a comprehensive understanding of conservatism. As a practicing catholic, I accept the teachings of the church in the Bible; however, I also accept the theory of evolution based on my studies of bioinformatics related subjects. My interpretation of the Bible does not stand in conflict. For instance, the Bible says God created Earth in seven days. Since so much of the Bible's teaching comes in the form of metaphors, I interpret seven days a metaphor for people of ancient times with no access to education so they could easily relate concepts they understood to the formation of a planet. Many of my fellow catholics and conservatives express their beliefs in similar fashion.

    In coming to where the distrust of science arises, I consider several data points. First, Left leaning thinkers dominate most of academia. Polls show this overwhelmingly, and I'm pretty sure most reading this don't disagree. Second, causes of environmental extremism frequently only present a partial view of science to justify an agenda. Consider the claims that man made CO2 emissions are causing the planet to warm. Much of the research upon which scientists have based these claims is not public. They have taken steps to avoid Freedom of Information Act requests, even to the extent that a frustrated whistleblower dumped a series of emails that blew up into the scandal now known as Climategate. For instance, proper simulation analysis undergoes a process called Independent Validation and Verification (IV&V). This involves third parties reproducing results against known outcomes, and anyone wishing to challenge the assertions may openly participate. However; this is not what's happened. Rather than openly engaging skeptics, even those with scientific backgrounds, the proponents tarnish, ridicule, and exclude such people from the process. Given the substantial financial gains some stand to make with the implementation of CO2 emissions policy, conservatives not welcoming such changes will naturally express a high degree of skepticism. Efforts such as capping CO2 emissions, elimination of DDT, etc. span back as early as the 1970s. Third, it's natural for conservatives to distrust anyone with the power of public policy making. There are exceptions, but not many.

    On the other side, I think some of my fellow conservatives sometimes fail to look at the whole picture of an issue. For instance, the US energy sector stands to gain a great deal of efficiency with the implementation of SmartGrid technology. However, it has an Orwellian aspect to it in that a central office can manipulate the amount of power applied at the point of consumption. Conservatives, myself included, don't want somebody in a central office controlling what happens within their homes, and this sentiment sometimes overshadows the other benefits of SmartGrid technology, such as synchrophasers. So rather than simply opposing the single invasive aspect of SmartMeters, they oppose the entirely of all SmartGrid technology.

    Lastly, I think that scientists naturally tend to drift towards Left leaning ideology because of their problem solver mentality. When an engineer builds something, a car or rocket or software application, he/she aims to develop it in such a manner that it functions in the most optimal way possible, time and money permitting of course. The building blocks are mechanical parts, 0's and 1's, or other types of inanimate objects. They don't have consciousness, feeling, dreams, desires, or rights. When science enters the realm of public policy, however, those building blocks are individual persons. I think it's too easy for scientific based public policy makers to forget that and consequently dehumanize the problems they are trying to solve. That's what I consider the essence of conservative based skepticism of science in today's world.

1 1 was a race-horse, 2 2 was 1 2. When 1 1 1 1 race, 2 2 1 1 2.