Conservatives have lost faith in science, study shows

Reply Thu 29 Mar, 2012 02:04 pm
Mar. 29, 2012
Conservatives have lost faith in science, study shows
John Hoeffel | McClatchy-Tribune News Service

As the Republican presidential race has shown, the conservatives who dominate the primaries are deeply skeptical of science - making Newt Gingrich, for one, regret he ever settled onto a couch with Nancy Pelosi to chat about global warming.

A study released Thursday in the American Sociological Review concludes that trust in science among conservatives and frequent churchgoers has declined precipitously since 1974, when a national survey first asked people how much confidence they had in the scientific community. At that time, conservatives had the highest level of trust in scientists.

Confidence in scientists has declined the most among the most educated conservatives, the peer-reviewed research paper found, concluding: "These results are quite profound because they imply that conservative discontent with science was not attributable to the uneducated but to rising distrust among educated conservatives."

"That's a surprising finding," said the report's author, Gordon Gauchat, in an interview. He has a doctorate in sociology and is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

To highlight the impact conservative views of science have had on public opinion, Gauchat pointed to results from Gallup, which found in 2012 that just 30 percent of conservatives believed the Earth was warming as a result of greenhouse gases versus 50 percent two years earlier. In contrast, the poll showed almost no change in the opinion of liberals, with 74 percent believing in global warming in 2010 versus 72 percent in 2008.

Gauchat suggested that the most educated conservatives are most acquainted with views that question the credibility of scientists and their conclusions. "I think those people are most fluent with the conservative ideology," he said. "They have stronger ideological dispositions than people who are less educated."

Chris Mooney, who wrote "The Republican War on Science," which Gauchat cites, agreed.

"If you think of the reasons behind this as nature versus nurture, all this would be nurture, that it was the product of the conservative movement," he said. "I think being educated is a proxy for people paying attention to politics, and when they do, they tune in to Fox News and blogs."

Gauchat also noted the conservative movement had expanded substantially in power and influence, particularly during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, creating a vast apparatus of think tanks and media outlets.

Science has also increasingly come under fire, Gauchat said, because its cultural authority and its impact on government have grown. For years, he said, the role science played was mostly behind the scenes, creating military equipment and sending rockets into space.

But with the emergence of the Environmental Protection Agency, for example, scientists began to play a crucial and visible role in developing regulations.

Jim DiPeso, policy director of Republicans for Environmental Protection, has been trying to move his party to the center on issues such as climate change, but he said many Republicans were wary of science because they believed it was "serving the agenda of the regulatory state."

The study was based on results from the General Social Survey, administered between 1974 and 2010 by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

John Hoeffel writes for the Los Angeles Times. Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com.(Staff writer Neela Banerjee in the Tribune Washington Bureau contributed to this report.)

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Reply Thu 29 Mar, 2012 02:39 pm
Climate, Controversy And Strangers On A Plane
March 29, 2012
by Adam Frank - NPR

He looked like a former linebacker, tall and solidly built. After stowing his wife's luggage in the overhead, he squeezed past me, sat down and looked straight at the astronomy textbook I was reading. "You're a scientist?" he asked. "Are you involved in that big controversy over climate?"

I looked into his face and could see he wasn't angry or hostile or combative. He seemed like a good guy and, by the way his wife gently rolled her eyes, I could see he liked to talk. So I took a chance and replied.

"What controversy?"

What followed was a long conversation, 30,000 feet above the American West, about a great and dangerous gap. On the one hand we spoke of science and what it looks like on the ground to those who practice it. On the other hand we waded knee-deep into the wreckage that is science in the sphere of politics.

From my seatmate's perspective the field of climate studies must be awash in controversy. Was the planet warming, or not?

As we spoke it was clear he was a guy who liked science and liked to think for himself. He told me about a water contamination problem in the school building where he worked. Folks were going crazy trying to find the cause. By methodically working through all possibilities he'd tracked the polluting source and solved the problem. In his eyes climate science was like the early phase of his school's contamination crises — everyone yelling at each other and pointing fingers.

"You want to know something weird?" I said. "For folks working on climate studies everyday, its not like that. Really. There's no controversy."

The question "Is the climate changing?" stopped being controversial for the day-to-day business of climate researchers a decade ago, at least. So much data had piled up that climate change stopped being a question. Instead it became an accepted finding. Researchers could not escape it if they tried.
This Berkeley analysis shows average temperatures over the last 6 decades. The blue line, trending up over time, is the result. The grey line represents the researcher's 95-percent confidence limits. The large fluctuations up and down every few years correlate with North Atlantic Ocean temperatures and with El Nino.

Berkeley Earth

This Berkeley analysis shows average temperatures over the last 6 decades. The blue line, trending up over time, is the result. The grey line represents the researcher's 95-percent confidence limits. The large fluctuations up and down every few years correlate with North Atlantic Ocean temperatures and with El Nino.

My new friend had a hard time swallowing what I was saying. He couldn't believe there weren't daily fights about climate change in Earth sciences departments across the country. I asked him to make a quick review of publications from all major voices of American science when he got home (AAAS, NAS, NASA, NSF etc.).

"You'll see," I said. "They all say the same thing. Climate Change: Yup."

Of course, there are still lots of controversies in the field, such as the role of clouds in computer models and how to deal with the statistics of extreme weather events. That's fine because controversies are what science is all about. A changing climate however just isn't on that list anymore.

Then my neighbor asked about all the scientists who reject climate change.

"There will always be some scientists who disagree completely," I said.

That's the way science works. For years there were well-established physicists who said the universe wasn't expanding. We now know it is expanding. The question isn't if everyone agrees. The question is, "What is happening on the ground? When it comes to day-to-day climate research, the concerns of skeptics within the scientific community have been answered many times. Their challenges to the reality of climate change did not stand up to close inspection and folks moved on.

As a scientist, it gets pretty dull having to answer the same research question 20 times.

We went back and forth this way for the better part of an hour. What struck me was the vast gap between the daily realities of the climate science community and the perceptions of people outside the field.

For folks working in the field, and those scientists like myself watching from the sidelines, the situation feels like being Alice as she plunges down the rabbit-hole. Everything you've learned about how science works, how it judges what we know and how we know it, appears in public reflected back through some crazy, fun-house mirror.

It's not a pretty sight.

Someone told my science-loving seatmate there was great debate going on among scientists about climate change. Someone told this smart, clever guy that the reality of climate change was a great scientific controversy. But the truth is so much simpler. That controversy ended. The field had already moved on.

But the rest of us — him, you, me and everyone else — we're not being allowed to do the same.
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Reply Thu 29 Mar, 2012 03:44 pm
The articles seem to target global warming. I did not read every word. That would indicate to me that they consider the science of global warming lacking, but it doesn't say much about other lines of scientific enquiry.
Reply Thu 29 Mar, 2012 04:14 pm
You ain't gonna sell much fish wrap with that sort of evenhanded analysis
Reply Fri 30 Mar, 2012 04:14 am
I suppose it depends upon ones worldview whether the GOP is "anti -science". When it comes to the components of evolution and earth history, I am apalled at how the mainstream US dismisses scientific evidence (we see that about 70% of foks "believe" in a divine intercession or divinley inspired and directed evolution and aso dont beieve physics and geology that have measured the earths age from multi millions of unique samples).

On the other hand, I too strongly doubt that human involvement is a tipping cause of climate change. SCience further shows that there are scads of these warm/cold cycles in our planets stratigraphic record and the VOSTOK ice cores show cleary that we are unremarkeably in the middle of such a freeze thaw cycle.

Mainline GOP seems aso to be against the biology of stem cell research as se so I find this kind of Midieval.

So I am siding with mainline GOP on one issue ( altho some real extremists deny that the panet IS warming at all. Thats not factual). Then, I do not agree with their herd's position on two others. SO, In conclusion, is the GOP against science?, lemme just say that they seem to be needing to be convinced of the accuracy of datas and the correctness of evolution theory (and their own error of a young planet), geochronology, Uniformitarianism and SUperposition, and stem cell research. SO were ony 2/3 in disagreement. L ets just say thatALL sides use "science" to benefit their political views. Thasts sad on both sides, becasuse being convinced of the anthropogenic cause of cimate change is also a more political than scientific view.

Reply Fri 30 Mar, 2012 05:42 am
Since the articles only brought up the one topic, global warming, I was giving a pass, because they referred to well educated conservatives. I thought perhaps they would be a tad smarter than the tea party Limbaugh factions.
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Reply Fri 30 Mar, 2012 05:52 am
i knew this woman who blinded me with science

she blinded me......with science
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Reply Fri 30 Mar, 2012 12:38 pm
I find myself in the same position as you with regard to the scientific theories you mentioned.

My feeling on the GOP is that it's not so much a loss of faith in science as much as it is following the political herd. If it was a loss of faith in science then everyone would stop going to the doctor when they had cancer and they would just go to church and pray (and get sicker and die). When the chips are down and life is on the line, most people still side with modern medicine (based in the scientific process).

It's also only the more esoteric ideas of science that are resisted. Most people can be ignorant of evolution and it won't have any effect on them. And if it's a distasteful idea because it conflicts with something else which you would rather be true, then it's just easier to think that eggheads are wrong and the priest is right.
Reply Fri 30 Mar, 2012 11:02 pm
I'm able to know this isn't going to work...but oh well. TROLL.
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