29 March 2012

A Loss of Trust in Institutions of Science Among US Conservatives

A new paper is out today in the American Sociological Review (here by subscription) by Gordon Gauchat titled "Politicization of Science in the Public Sphere: A Study of Public Trust in the United States, 1974 to 2010." Here is the abstract:
This study explores time trends in public trust in science in the United States from 1974 to 2010. More precisely, I test Mooney’s (2005) claim that conservatives in the United States have become increasingly distrustful of science. Using data from the 1974 to 2010 General Social Survey, I examine group differences in trust in science and group-specific change in these attitudes over time. Results show that group differences in trust in science are largely stable over the period, except for respondents identifying as conservative. Conservatives began the period with the highest trust in science, relative to liberals and moderates, and ended the period with the lowest. The patterns for science are also unique when compared to public trust in other secular institutions. Results show enduring differences in trust in science by social class, ethnicity, gender, church attendance, and region. I explore the implications of these findings, specifically, the potential for political divisions to emerge over the cultural authority of science and the social role of experts in the formation of public policy.
The paper explores public trust in institutions of science and looks at differences among groups who self-identify into different political categories.  The paper explores three hypotheses that exist in the academic literature related to the relationship of the public and scientific institutions.  They are:
  • "The cultural ascendency thesis predicts a uniform increase in public trust in science across all social groups. In other words, the special congruence of science and modern institutions increases the need for scientific knowledge and public education, which, in turn, encourages public trust in science"
  • "By contrast, scholars have predicted a uniform decline in public trust across all social groups, or the alienation thesis. This decline in public trust is associated with a cultural backlash against technocratic authority and science’s inability to defend itself against its own standards in public discourse"
  • "Finally, the politicization thesis predicts that ideological conservatives will experience group-specific declines in trust in science over time. Conservatives’ distrust is attributable to the political philosophy and intellectual culture accompanying the [new right] and the increased connection between scientific knowledge and regulatory regimes in the United States, the latter of which conservatives generally oppose."
 Here is the bottom line of the paper's empirical analysis:
To summarize the main empirical findings, this study shows that public trust in science has not declined since the 1970s except among conservatives and those who frequently attend church. Accordingly, the analysis provides negligible evidence for the cultural ascendency thesis, which suggests that trust in science will increase over time. Nor do results support the alienation thesis that predicts a uniform decline in public trust in science. In general, results are consistent with claims of the politicization thesis and show that conservatives experienced long-term group-specific declines rather than an abrupt cultural break. Additionally, one of the key findings here involves the relationship between education and trust in science. In essence, this study greatly complicates claims of the deficit model, which predicts that individuals with higher levels of education will possess greater trust in science...
These conclusions mirror more broadly the dynamics that I discuss in The Climate Fix that have occurred in the case of climate change -- the perspectives of Democrats and Republicans have diverged dramatically on the issue as it has become more politicized. And just as in the case of climate change, the paper's conclusions are not about science per se, but about public views of the legitimacy of science institutions in politics:
...conservatives’ unfavorable attitudes are most acute in relation to government funding of science and the use of scientific knowledge to influence social policy (see Gauchat 2010). Conservatives thus appear especially averse to regulatory science, defined here as the mutual dependence of organized science and government policy. . .

Paradoxically, it is possible that science’s cultural authority engendered politicization, particularly its role in policy formation and regulation of private interests. This assumes that science’s cultural authority has grown—especially among legal, political, and economic institutions (see Jasanoff 2004)—to the point that the scientific community inevitably becomes entangled in polarized conflicts (e.g., economic growth versus environmental sustainability).

As a result, science is “increasingly seen as being politicized and not disinterested” (Yearley 2005:121). Although public distrust in science may not portend systemic crisis, social scientists, policymakers, and scientific organizations should remain concerned about public perceptions.
The paper provides a nice set of empirical evidence to support the arguments that have been made by Dan Sarewitz (and others) about the consequences of the politicization of the scientific community.  Writing in Slate last year, Sarewitz explained the basic dynamics at play here using the case of climate change:
Think about it: The results of climate science, delivered by scientists who are overwhelmingly Democratic, are used over a period of decades to advance a political agenda that happens to align precisely with the ideological preferences of Democrats. Coincidence—or causation? Now this would be a good case for Mythbusters.
During the Bush administration, Democrats discovered that they could score political points by accusing Bush of being anti-science. In the process, they seem to have convinced themselves that they are the keepers of the Enlightenment spirit, and that those who disagree with them on issues like climate change are fundamentally irrational. Meanwhile, many Republicans have come to believe that mainstream science is corrupted by ideology and amounts to no more than politics by another name. Attracted to fringe scientists like the small and vocal group of climate skeptics, Republicans appear to be alienated from a mainstream scientific community that by and large doesn't share their political beliefs. The climate debacle is only the most conspicuous example of these debilitating tendencies, which play out in issues as diverse as nuclear waste disposal, protection of endangered species, and regulation of pharmaceuticals.
Sarewitz suggested as remedy that scientific institutions need more Republican scientists. That point is worth debating, but what is not debatable is that "the issue here is legitimacy."

What also seems clear is that continued efforts to use science as a "wedge issue" (by scientists, advocates and politicians alike) will not further the restoration of trust in scientific institutions among conservatives, and likely will have the opposite effect. And without trust from across the political spectrum, science will continue to be politicized as politics by other means, diminishing its ability to serve as an important input to policy debates.

It is therefore in the scientific community's best interests to address the declining trust among conservatives. The answer does not lie in trying to turn conservatives into liberals or otherwise vanquishing them from the political landscape as some in the science wars seem to think is possible. As conservatives are going to be a part of the social landscape for a long time, their trust in scientific institutions is important. How to rebuild that trust should be front and center in public institutions of science.

39 comments:

Ben Eng said...

have we asked ourselves why the mainstream scientific community does not share conservative political beliefs? could it have something to do with how we are funding scientific research through government grants instead of through free market mechanisms?

Bret said...

It seems to me that this post is using three things interchangeably that are, in my mind, radically different with minimal overlap: "Institutions of Science"; scientists; and science.

"Institutions of Science" which act as institutions at all seem to be mostly congregations of leftish democrats pursuing policy objectives who, oh-by-the-way, happen to be scientists. Obviously, a conservative would have no reason to "trust" such an entity, while of course a democrat would.

Scientists are just humans. Some of them trustworthy, some not so much, but as far as I can tell they're no more (or less) trustworthy than anybody else. Per Sowell's "Conflict of Visions", conservatives are less trusting than average so of course they will less trust the average human, including the average scientist.

Lastly, there's "science", and that term means a lot of different things to a lot of people. As far as the body of theories, hypothesis, conjectures, methods, model, etc. and the associated evidence supporting them (or not), trust isn't the right concept. Interpretation as to relevance is required and two people, with different subjective viewpoints can rationally come up with radically different conclusions about what that knowledge means when applied to real-life circumstances.

On the other hand, using science as a basis for an already large government to continue expanding without discernible bounds in order to pursue policies that are supposedly good for us, especially when the basis is one of the "almost" sciences like sociology or economics, is obviously not going to be "trusted" by those whose subjective preference is for limited government.

So without having a precise definition of what the paper means by "science", I can't really know whether the conclusions contain any useful information.

Gerard Harbison said...

I think there are several factors at work here. Back in the 1970s there was much more industrial research, not just at places like Bell Labs and IBM, but at Monsanto, Dow, Kodak, Exxon, etc.. Industrial scientists, for obvious reasons, tended to be more conservative than academic or government scientists. That research is much more limited these days; the government really does dominate, and so research scientists are dependent on federal funding for their very livelihood.

Another issue is the embrace of creationism and to a lesser entent anti-stem-cell activism by social conservatives. Less well informed scientists often see conservatives in general as young-earth creationist caricatures.

Part of it is that the public face of science — Scientific American, AAAS, etc. — really has been co-opted by the left. Reading Scientific American used to be a real pleasure for me, despite its UCS-like line on nuclear issues. But it became far more monolitically leftist during the eighties -- the hatchet jobs on Murray and Herrnstein, and on Lomborg are obvious examples. I can't stand the thing anymore; my subscription lapsed a long time ago.

And part of it is that conservatives' suspicions often have real justification. I've looked in detail at some of the published science underlying environmental issues, particularly the bisphenol A controversy and the EPA's scientific findings to support the recent power plant regulations, and a lot of it is just really, really bad; tendentious rubbish that simply doesn't support the claimed conclusions, and which occasionally contains absolute physical impossibilities.Despite the rosy-tinted view of many scientists, even the science published by the best journals is of highly variable quality, with very poor quality control.

n.n said...

Their conclusion follows from an incorrect assessment. American conservatives do not distrust science. Ironically, it is that group which demonstrates the best alignment with an objective reality. Perhaps they learned their lesson following their last encounter with alphas or mortal gods who would presume to dictate a true perception of reality, including professing (and enforcing) their own superior or exceptional dignity.

Science is a faith which is necessarily constrained to a limited frame of reference. The contemporary scientist is flawed in three ways. First, they have difficulty distinguishing between science and philosophy (or faith), which is especially a problem when their perception of reality is justified by limited, circumstantial evidence. Second, they are challenged to distinguish between cause and effect. This is especially evident and problematic in the so-called "social" sciences. Finally, in their desire for instant gratification (e.g. material, ego, stature), they have succumbed to corruption. This is the same nonsense which was the source of the periodic malaise that afflicted every human civilization and society. The human condition has not fundamentally changed. We are still vulnerable to the same corruptive forces as our ancestors.

As for the longevity of "conservatism", consider that today's "progressive" is tomorrow's conservative. It is only generational "progressives" who act to supersede their parents and predecessors that do not comprehend there is a limit to reasonable and productive progress, and that progress is classified as both positive and negative.

It's amusing, really. To observe as each generation discovers enlightenment anew. The contemporary realization is increasingly rejecting or perverting the natural order (in favor of their baser instincts) and evolutionary fitness, and also the enlightened order (i.e. individual consciousness and dignity). The result has been a progressive corruption of individuals and society. The same decadence which left past civilizations vulnerable to decay and dissolution, which ended in their collapse or submission to a superior force.

Americans, and Western civilization in general, truly believe they are special or exceptional, and that they are not subject to the prevailing order of our world. They are not and they will be replaced by people who identify and enforce a reasonable compromise between the natural and enlightened orders. Who are capable of self-moderating behavior and resist their dreams of physical, material, and ego instant gratification.

This is not about conservatism, which in America is principally a hybrid of classical liberalism and Judeo-Christian principles, and is the culmination of wisdom throughout the ages. This is not about religions, and Christianity specifically, because those people recognize individual dignity and understand the prerequisite for liberty. In fact, judgment of individual conscience by their God in the post-mortem is the premise for their faith. They have accepted individual dignity as an article of faith, whereas others accept it as axiomatic.

Anyway, let's hope our physical realm remains stable and predictable, so that our objective faith (i.e. science) is not shattered. In the meantime, we continue to search for the underlying order to our universe. Perhaps we will, eventually, discover the "God" particle, or an unexpected and unpredicted phenomenon which makes sense of our reality.

The endless conflict between religious and secular, between "conservative" and "progressive", is not only unproductive, but it is, in fact, counterproductive. Each of your faiths should be judged by the principles they engender.

Will Nitschke said...

Distrust in scientific claims can be healthy, although also pathological. Let's imagine for a moment that we could take this study back in time to the earlier part of the 20th century. And let's change the scientific discourse to that of psychoanalytics or Marxist economic theory, two research fields that were strongly endorsed by influential segments of the academic community. What would someone now think, if the final question to be asked was, "how can we get the wider public to believe what we as academics also believe?"

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-2-Bret

Thanks ... the paper has a long discussion of this exact issue that you raise, worth a read. Thx

opit said...

And all of this misses the shift to a world where 'news reports' are prepackaged corporate propaganda. Do not misunderstand : the Military Industrial Complex cannot be understood separately from Media and Religion nor the perversion of publuc education without an appreciation of the contribution of UNESCO as elucidated by Julian Huxley decades ago.
Rather there is a devoted ignoring of 'Post Normal Science' where media manipulation capitalizes on the reputation of scientists as impartial authorities.
Backlash was predicted by sci-fi author Larry Niven decades ago as part of a possible future set in an ice age when man rebuked space exploration and the role of science and technology. It's hardly deathless prose : but the implications are interesting.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Fallen-Angels-Larry-Niven/dp/067172052X
So's the background of psyops and Spacewars.
http://opitslinkfest.blogspot.com/2009/07/perception-alteration.html

moflicky said...

Very interesting discussion. I'd like to throw this out as a possible contributor to conservatives lack of trust in science:

Once every year or so, some scientific study is released - and gets big play in all the usual places - about how conservatives brains are somehow different than liberals. peruse the litany via this google search:

http://tinyurl.com/cp2guyk

The very idea that scientists are trying to find scientific reasons some people don't agree with their politics just gives me the creeps. The Soviets liked declaring dissidents mentally defective so they could be rounded up and disposed of.

Would you be trusting of science in general when "scientists" are trying to find ways to prove your political views were the function of a brain defect?

Stan said...

Engineers tend to be Republicans. Scientists tend to be Democrats. Engineers trust science. Without it, they couldn't do their jobs. What they don't trust is unverified BS. Unverified BS is not a bar, however, to being a scientist.

BTW, I would imagine that a similar study of journalism would have the same results only more dramatic. Sooner or later people figure out that a group is trying to screw their side and they respond with a lack of trust. Ain't real hard to understand. Corruption has consequences.

What is interesting to me about both scientists and journalists is that both groups know that they tilt overwhelmingly to the left. They pretend to care about the perception that they are biased. They know all the studies show that a failure to include other voices inevitably leads to bias in their work product. Yet, they insist that somehow they aren't subject to the same influences that affect all other humans.

Hubris is a real asskicker.

MattL said...

So much of what gets reported as "science says" gets contradicted as soon as the next study comes out. The modern practice of torturing data until an acceptable P-Value is discovered probably harms the trust in the stuff proclaimed as science as any bias toward any particular political agenda.

The average person probably has little awareness about the nuanced policy positions or regulatory actions. But they sure remember that this week's study about how coffee is good for your contradicts last year's study about how awful it is for you.

Pat Moffitt said...

Trust seems to be a matter of the perceptions of the incentives driving science. The environmental movement grew in the 60s with a basic distrust of science. Scientists were linked with Dow and other "evil" chemical companies. Rachel Carlson championed democratic science- a belief that public concerns about pesticides and other risks could not be adjudicated in the technical arena where industry was able to purchase undue influence- buying both scientists and legislators. Environmental groups of the early 70s demanded risk be determined by the Public's perception of it and not by scientists.
Now 40 years later - most environmental science is government funded. Environmental groups champion " scientific consensus" as the principal tool of risk assessment while conservatives grow distrustful.
Trust will never be achieved until incentives are aligned with science and not the source of funding. Not sure how this will happen.

Terry Oldberg said...

Dr. Pielke's caption "Trust me I'm a scientist" brilliantly summarizes the issue.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Interestingly the debate over why we see increased politicization of science includes those who say that it is a function of political context (Sarewitz, me) and those who say that there is something genetically inferior about Republicans (Mooney). Mooney's argument is about as extreme a version of the deficit model as one might see, but I would not be surprised to see him say that the data supports his claims of a "nature" explanation for the trends.

Hector M. said...

Conservatism and anti-scientific attitudes are common in the US, and perhaps also in the UK, but that is not a general rule. "many Republicans have come to believe that mainstream science is corrupted by ideology and amounts to no more than politics by another name", but that is precisely the feeling among many in the generally left-leaning "philosophes" in France and Britain (and also the US) who profess a post modernist epistemology, including those pursuing the so-called "Strong Programme in the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge", or many definitely leftist believers in a Feminist Epistemology.
On the other side of the socioeconomic divide, and in relation to climate change and other environmental issues, many left-wing intellectuals and politicians in the Third World, often claim, as for instance Bolivian Socialist President Evo Morales, that environmentalism is a new form of imperialism; in Brazil, the left in general has protested against calls from developed countries to avoid exploiting natural resources that the Brazilians feel are needed for development. The opposition of Chinese Communist Party rulers (and Chinese academics) to similar calls from the West is also well known. This does not mean that the Chinese or the Brazilians lack trust in science (though I'm not so sure about Mr Morales in Bolivia): it just shows that skepticism about climate change and environmental protection is not a monopoly of the Right. It could also be practiced from the Left.
And of course that most peculiar brand of anti-science that festers in the depths of the Bible Belt, and opposes not only environmentalism but the theory of evolution or anything that is not literally in The Good Book, is a uniquely American phenomenon that would be hard to find in any other country (except perhaps among the most extreme sects of Muslim fundamentalism).

The empirical findings in the paper commented here are probably a good picture of what is going on in America, but could hardly be generalized.

Jos said...

14 - Hector M.

"And of course that most peculiar brand of anti-science that festers in the depths of the Bible Belt, and opposes not only environmentalism but the theory of evolution or anything that is not literally in The Good Book, is a uniquely American phenomenon that would be hard to find in any other country"

That does not appear to be true, at least not in my country (the Netherlands). We actually do have a 'bible belt' and yes, they share many of the characteristics of their American counterparts. One striking difference may be that their political influence is much less as we have a more diverse political landscape to choose from, hence they are not that visible. But they do exist.

Jos said...

Roger,

Many thanks for posting this!

As I mentioned to you some time ago by email, I am currently involved in organizing a workshop for Dutch civil "knowledge institutes" on the topic 'knowledge, authority and trust'.

In the Netherlands we face similar problems, and it appears to be a topic of increased debate. What I am particularly interestd in, and specifically looking for, is what to do. How to (re)gain trust in science given these boundary conditions.

I've already come accross some examples on what and what not to do, and the 'trust me, I am a scientist' does not only appear not to work, it actually appears to be counter-effective.

Given the discussion here, I am curious to learn what people suggest on how to gain or restore some of that trust.

Regards,

Jos de Laat (KNMI)

Hector M. said...

15. Jos:
I sent a response to your remarks but it apparently failed to go through. Its gist was that of course such fundamentalist groups may exist everywhere, but nowhere they have the salience of the evangelical right in the US. All modern societies contain a host of fringe groups of all stripes, from evangelical fundamentalists to Muslim fundamentalists, from anarchists to Jehovah witnesses, from those announcing that the End is Nigh and asking sinners to repent to trotskytes expecting world socialist revolution to happen any minute. They, however, do not normally have the remotest chance of being prime-time material or to influence national politics to the extent that the US political system is affected by the likes of Sarah Palin.

My main point, however, was not this, but the fact that the association of climate change skepticism (and anti-scientific attitudes) is not necessarily or exclusively associated with the Right.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-17-Hector M.

Just FYI, there are no uncleared comments in the queue. Thx!

MattL said...

-17- Hector,

I think you're stretching the concept of "anti-science," not to mention stereotypes. I won't go into the ways that secularists have replaced God with the State, but you don't have to sit in a pew on Sunday to subscribe to magical thinking.

One interesting contrast is the type of science that different groups disagree with. First, the canonical right wing heresy is, of course, evolution (even though it's pretty common among ID believers that evolution is real). Regardless, evolution has a pretty minimal impact in people lives.

One place where I would argue that anti-scientific thought has significantly taken some political power is on the issue of GM crops, especially in Europe. Here, now, is something that can have an extremely significant and direct impact on people (e.g., the GM grains with extra vitamins). But the precautionary principle has gripped Europe (and others, IIRC).

Or how about Britain's NHS paying for homeopathic treatment? That's about as anti-science as can be, yet the health system often held up as a model for others throws money down that hole.

To sum up, I would say that people of all faiths and intelligence and temperament do and believe in apparently dumb things, and a Mooney-like rationalization of the superiority of one group or another is likely to just demonstrate one's own bias and belief in "dumb things."

Gerard Harbison said...

Mooney's argument is about as extreme a version of the deficit model as one might see, but I would not be surprised to see him say that the data supports his claims of a "nature" explanation for the trends.

The irony being that everywhere else in science, the left tends to align with the 'nurture' side and the right with the 'nature' side...Pinker being a notable exception.

Will Howard said...

The title of the paper is a bit misleading.

The question asked of respondents was not about their *trust* in "science" but about their *confidence* in scientific institutions and the people running them. An important distinction, which the title of this blog implicitly acknowledges. The question was "I am going to name some institutions in this country. As far as the people running these institutions are concerned, would you say you have a great deal of confidence, only some confidence, or hardly any confidence at all in them [the Scientific Community]?”

n.n said...

Hector M:

How do you intend to prove evolution? You cannot do it with limited, circumstantial evidence, or without demonstrating continuity. Evolution is at best a philosophical construct designed to match a prevailing pattern.

Do you distinguish between evolution as a description of species origin and evolutionary principles?

Finally, is this knowledge relevant to elevating the human condition, simply an intellectual curiosity, or intended to marginalize your competing interests?

Anyway, we at least have the potential to identify a "God" particular or another phenomenon which is the cause for the underlying order in our universe. We also stand a fairly good chance of sufficiently characterizing the climate system to where it can be described as something other than chaotic. We will never prove the origin of human beings. The physical evidence simply does not exist.

pauld said...

A quick comment that I hope doesn't divert this discussion too far: One of the biggest issues where conservatives are said to be anti-science is in the controversy over biological evolution. Religous conservatives are told repeatedly by some that the theory of evolution disproves the existence of a Creator/God. However, the Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga in his recent book on science and religion demonstrates that this is simply not true. It is possible to be an orthodox Christian who accepts all the major creeds of the Christian church and accepts the theory of evolution. Francis Collins is a good example of a scientist who holds this position. The Pope is a good example of a theologian who holds this position. I don't want to spend too much time arguing here for this position, but you can read Alvin Plantinga's book if you doubt my assertion.

It is not possible, however, to be an orthodox Christian and accept the metaphysical add-on to the theory of evolution that God was not involved in the creation of life and that evolution is entirely a random process without direction. Science cannot prove the metaphysical add-on and should not try. It necessarily involves issues of theology and philosophy. I think Alvin Plantinga is correct when he argues that theists will reject "science" when it attempts to address areas outside of its realm.

Hector M. said...

19 Mattl:
I completely agree with you.
And I do not see in what you may think we disagree. I certainly don't restrict magical thinking to religious fundamentalism (your allegation should be that I am "restricting" it, not "stretching" it). Of course it blossoms everywhere, including the examples you mention and many more.
I limited myself to the bizarre views of the extreme right in the US (which is often religiously oriented, but not always) because that was the theme of this post (the so called "Republican brain").
And my main point was something completely different: I argued that anti-scientific postures, such as criticism of the scientific method and skepticism about climate change are not restricted to the Right, since they appear also among people in the Left, and I cited several examples.
I may add that a commitment to environmental protection at all costs is, by the same token, not exclusively adopted by the Left: one may only recall in this regard the often-ridiculous environmentalist positions of Charles Windsor, Prince of Wales, certainly not a beacon of the Left.
Stupidity prospers everywhere.

Stan said...

Glenn Reynolds posted this:

"Reader Mary Ritenour writes:



I tracked back to the original paper (http://www.asanet.org/images/journals/docs/pdf/asr/Apr12ASRFeature.pdf) to see what the exact survey question was.

“The GSS asked respondents the following question: “I am going to name some institutions in this country. As far as the people running these institutions are concerned, would you say you have a great deal of confidence, only some confidence, or hardly any confidence at all in them [the Scientific Community]?”(page 172)"

How strange that the author routinely uses the term 'science' in the abstract as a synonym for 'the people running scientific institutions'. Perhaps in hope that the media would misreport his findings.

MattL said...

-24- Hector,

My response, and where I disagreed with you was really this quote:

They, however, do not normally have the remotest chance of being prime-time material or to influence national politics to the extent that the US political system is affected by the likes of Sarah Palin.

Of course, to me, there's not much "extreme" about Palin, at least politically, while the average American Democrat or European MP sure looks like an extreme leftist from my vantage point. Sadly (IMHO), America isn't safe from extremists like those crazy Europeans being prime time material and affecting the national political system, and that there aren't more like Sarah Palin on that side of the Atlantic. :-)

I wouldn't call Prince Charles a "beacon of the left," but he sure seems like a man of the left to me, which is to say similar to the American Progressive tradition. Obviously, I think about left / right very differently than what many Europeans do. As far as hierarchical stuff goes, I'm quite pleased that we disconnected ourselves from royalty long ago, and remain amazed at the way, e.g., Australians remain connected.

Hector M. said...

@22.n.n.,

I do not intend to "prove evolution". That is very far from the issue of this post. However, if you are not convinced about evolution, I advise taking some course in basic evolutionary biology. Otherwise you may cease to be only an interlocutor in this conversation and become also an object of study for the very theme of this post.

Hector M. said...

@26 Mattl

Of course "right" and "left" are to a certain extent relative and conventional terms. What is at your left may be at my right. "Extreme" is also relative, but has a more precise meaning, indicating that it is located in a region (on a continuum) where few people are still more extreme (i.e. located farther away from the center or the mean, in the same direction). In that sense, the Republican fundamentalist right wing (exemplified by Sarah Palin and others of her ilk) is "extreme" in this statistical sense of the word. Whether it is to your right or to your left, or just at the same place as you are, would depend on your particular position.
Now, that Prince Charles may be a man of the left is really a new one. Will share it with the other blokes at the pub to see how they react.

MattL said...

-28- Hector,

I think your impression of Palin's position relative to other Americans is probably in the realm of my ignorance of Chuck...about whom I've mostly heard about him advocating for an increase in government power.

I suppose that even the limited monarchy he now enjoys still has whiffs of authoritarianism, which to me is antithetical to classical liberalism, which today is mainly of the right.

Hector M. said...

29.Mattl,
advocating for less State power can come from right wing libertarians or from left-wing anarchists. The same for those claiming for more State intervention or even for authoritarian tendencies, which may be found at both ends of the political spectrum (e.g. Hitler and Stalin, Prince Chuck and anti-globalization radicals, or many other similar examples).

Now this post is not about that. It is about attitudes towards science. Distrust or outright rejection of science and scientific knowledge may be found among people of quite different ideological shades, from radical postmodernist feminists to fundamentalist evangelicals and many others. And that is my whole point. Associating it with "Republicans" is just a result of what we may call US-centrism. There are more things in the world than Mooney's Republican-brain philosophy can allow for (if I'm allowed to misquote the Bard).

Gerard Harbison said...

Hector M:

26% of Americans self-identify as evangelical protestants. It's certainly not 'fringe' in America. Palin is anti-gay-marriage, pro-capital-punishment, pro-second-amendment, pro-offshore-drilling, skeptical of global warming, pro-defense, anti PPACA, pro-limited-government, and Republican. These are all positions held by at least 25%, and in most cases 50% of the population. 46% of us voted for her, remember.

BTW, I'm no particular fan of Palin, but as a expat and current reader of British newspapers, I submit that if you are relying on the British media for your view of America, you have a very distorted view of what mainstream American opinion is.

David Cameron, based on his social and economic views, would probably fall somewhere near the center of the American Democratic Party. To find someone in UK politics who would pass for a mainstream Republican in the US, you'd probably need to rummage deep into the Tory backbench.

MattL said...

-30- Hector,

Hitler and Stalin, Prince Chuck and anti-globalization radicals

Yes, all of the left (well, I'm open to argument on Prince Chuck).

My original response was about your silly statements about American attitudes and politicians. I agree (and provided examples) of people having silly attitudes outside of the US. I certainly agree with your second paragraph there.

Will Howard said...

Following up on my earlier comments, in the conclusions, the author of the paper acknowledges the limitation of the survey question:

" 'Nevertheless, this study has numerous limitations. First, confidence in the scientific community is a single outcome used to assess public trust in science over time. In particular, one issue is how the public interprets the 'scientific community' and the 'people running these institutions.' Based on previous research, it is unlikely the public has uniform ideas about 'what science is' "

The author also notes "In supplementary analyses not presented here, I compared results for the confidence in science measure to other attitudes toward science. A wide variety of outcomes measuring public attitudes toward science were predicted using model specifications identical to those shown in this study. These analyses consistently show unfavorable attitudes among conservatives, which corroborate the findings presented here (analysis available upon request from author)."

I'm a bit surprised these supplementary analyses were not published in this or a companion paper. It seems they are important to resolving the question of "trust in science" vs. "confidence in institutions."

Mike Smith said...

Here is a completely different take this subject: The study didn't even ask about faith in "science," but rather "scientists." http://www.mikesmithenterprises.com/2012/03/what-if-all-of-these-news-stories-are-factually-wrong/

Stan said...

Anyone who thinks that Sarah Palin's attitudes and political positions are extreme compared to other Americans either has never been to America or gets all their news from the NY Times. A great example of extreme (compared to the American center) would be the attitudes of Bill Ayers, Bernadine Dhorn, Jeremiah Wright, James Meeks, Michael Pfleger, and Frank Davis.

BTW -- the attitudes which "fester" deep in the bible belt are much, much closer to the center of American opinion than the attitudes which "fester" deep in the faculty lounges of American universities. Probably in large part because the attitudes there contributed far more to the progress and advancement of the poor and dispossessed than anything that ever emerged from the fetid swamp of the faculty lounge.

n.n said...

Hector M:

You fail to acknowledge what you know, don't know, and are incapable of knowing. There is no scientific basis for your perception of reality other than through limited, circumstantial, and correlative evidence. You criticize people of one faith, but are unwilling to acknowledge the articles of faith that form the foundation of your philosophy.

It should be clear that I am criticizing your open interpretation of the available physical evidence. Furthermore, it should also be clear that you employ a selective scientific process in order to marginalize your competing interests. I am well acquainted with individuals who do this and their underlying motivations. I find this approach to life amusing and counterproductive.

Well, let's hope your philosophy fares better in the 21st century. The 20th century exposed the extreme dangers inherent to a philosophy that would pervert an objective reality for its own purposes. Actually, the mainstream religions suffered from the same deficits, but they have since progressed and rejected the ideologies which predisposed them to a flat Earth and totalitarian mentality.

In any case, I have greater respect for individuals and cooperatives that embrace their faith openly, rather than hiding behind a selective science and reality, which only serves to corrupt both.

Well, I have studied you and now you are welcome to reciprocate in kind. I am inclined to believe that you will mischaracterize and improperly attribute my motivations. Unfortunately, that is inevitable when a judge lacks context.

bernie said...

Nice find Stan.
Personally, I subscribe to the sentiment on Missouri license plates. Trust is not a binary, static state. Like "belief", among scientists it is always conditional and situational. I suspect that there are few liberals who "trust" the science-based pronouncements coming from the fossil fuel industry, seed companies, tobacco companies. Where there are presumptions of self-interest, "trust" is much, much harder to win.
At this point, I always recommend the late Aaron Wildavsky's But Is It True? and his call for hard nosed critical assessments by citizens of "expert" pronouncements.

Stan said...

Roger,

I suspect that the level of trust is about to take a major nosedive. http://news.yahoo.com/cancer-science-many-discoveries-dont-hold-174216262.html

47 of 53 landmark studies couldn't be replicated.

"We went through the paper line by line, figure by figure," said Begley. "I explained that we re-did their experiment 50 times and never got their result. He said they'd done it six times and got this result once, but put it in the paper because it made the best story. It's very disillusioning."

BrianM said...

With the focus of the original article and in this blog post/commentary being nearly exclusively on the left vs. right, something very interesting is largely overlooked.

As seen clearly in Figure 1 of the article, and commented on in passing in the analysis: "...moderates show the lowest levels of trust [in scientific institutions and the people running them] among ideological groups for most of the period..." (p. 174)

Moderates represent more than a third of the overall sample, so this is a non-trivial group. So what happened some 35 years ago that caused this group to lose faith in those running scientific institutions? It seems that this is a pretty important group of potential voters to simply ignore in this discussion.

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.