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One of the big losers this election year? Science. Only 35 per cent of conservative voters have “a great deal of trust in science,” according to a new study by Gordon Gauchat, a University of North Carolina sociologist. By comparison, 48 per cent trusted science as a discipline in a 1974 survey. What accounts for the dramatic decline? Here, four theories:
1. Science has become politicized
40 years ago, says Red Orbit, the media and educators spotlighted scientific achievement that all Americans could be proud of, like space exploration and defence. Today, those who promote scientific data are often pushing partisan policies on climate change and the environment. You can see why many Republicans are increasingly wary, Jim DiPeso, policy director of Republicans for Environmental Protection, tells the Los Angeles Times. They think that science is being used to support “bigger government and more onerous regulation.”
2. The Right feels like it’s under siege
“The perception among conservatives is that they’re at a disadvantage, a minority,” Gauchat tells U.S. News & World Report. “It’s not surprising that the conservative subculture would challenge what’s viewed as the dominant knowledge production groups in society.” That explains why conservatives are challenging not only scientists, but the media, too.
3. Conservatives trust science, but not scientists
Conservatives are not a “bunch of undereducated yahoos,” says Kevin Drum at Mother Jones. Indeed, politicians on the Right are not saying that we should “simply ignore science” and trust, say, our intuition on issues such as climate change, says John Timmer at Ars Technica. They just “claim that the science has been manipulated.” Trust facts, trust science — but don’t trust the scientists who spin results to justify liberal policy positions.
4. Conservatives are creating their own reality
The distrust in science “has been led by the most educated, most engaged segment of conservatism,” notes Drum, suggesting that it’s “part of the wider conservative turn” against institutions — academia, the media, Hollywood — that are “perceived as too liberal.” Instead, conservatives increasingly favour “institutions that produce more reliably conservative narratives” — like “churches, business-oriented think tanks, Fox News.” These days, partisans on both sides seek out information that reinforces their existing beliefs. “Liberals and conservatives are almost literally living in different worlds with different versions of consensus reality.”
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