Saturday, March 31, 2012

Survey: Conservatives have least trust in science; film at 11

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Today in You Really Don’t Say? news: Evolution-hating, climate-change-denying and “expert”-dismissing Rightists do not, in fact, put much trust in science as an institution:

To figure out which of these trends might apply, [researcher Gordon Gauchat] turned to the General Social Survey, which has been gathering information on the US public's views since 1972. During that time, the survey consistently contained a series of questions about confidence in US institutions, including the scientific community. The answers are divided pretty crudely—"a great deal," "only some," and "hardly any"—but they do provide a window into the public's views on science. (In fact, "hardly any" was the choice of less than 7 percent of the respondents, so Gauchat simply lumped it in with "only some" for his analysis.)

The data showed a few general trends. For much of the study period, moderates actually had the lowest levels of confidence in science, with liberals typically having the highest; the levels of trust for both these groups were fairly steady across the 34 years of data. Conservatives were the odd one out. At the very start of the survey in 1974, they actually had the highest confidence in scientific institutions. By the 1980s, however, they had dropped so that they had significantly less trust than liberals did; in recent years, they've become the least trusting of science of any political affiliation.

The article then lists some obvious possibilities explaining this shift, including the increasing influence of the anti-reality Christian-Right, the ideological belief that instinct and “common sense” trumps all, and (perhaps most of all, in my opinion) some generalized uncertainty due to the survey’s own imprecise manner of seeking and obtaining data (it asks if respondents have “a great deal”, “only some”, or “hardly any” confidence in various institutions, such as science, which doesn’t seem to make for a very precise statistical analysis).

Meanwhile, some are claiming that because it’s primarily “more educated” conservatives whose opinion of science has dropped, the usual explanation of ideological divide no longer applies in explaining the Right-wing distrust of science, or else that these anti-reality dissenters still do trust in science as a method as opposed to science as an institution. I’m not seeing it. For one thing, it’s difficult to pinpoint just what “more educated” means depending on context, and it’s quite possible that it could translate to “more ideological” in some, or even most, cases. (After all, the more informed someone is – accurately or otherwise – the faster they make up their minds and take up ideological positions.) It’s also been made evident over time that those who actively and proudly mistrust science as an institution tend not to put much stock in the scientific method, either, especially since being dismissive of actual scientific researchers and consensuses generally indicates one’s own cluelessness when it comes to understanding even the basics of science in the first place.

People who are renowned for knocking anything scientific that doesn’t mesh with their predefined worldview cannot reasonably be excused on the basis that they really do trust science, just not those untrustworthy ideas from the untrustworthy people who actually do the (untrustworthy) work. That’s as twisted a rationalization as I’ve heard in the long, egregious history of trying to defend the hoi polloi’s increasing generalized, willful and boastful ignorance. Being scornful of “elites” and “experts” isn’t just not a virtue; it’s dangerous … and sadly reflective of how too many people are quick to prefer self-delusion and irrational nonsense over having the moral or intellectual fortitude to face reality for what it is.

(via @todayspolitics)