As readers know, I’m a regular monitor of polls capturing various aspects of the public’s views on science. These polls consistently show that for the most part, even if people don’t know a ton about it, they basically think science rocks. Americans know very well that science has made their lives immeasurably better, and they show high levels of trust in the scientific community.
There are, however, a few caveats.
Although people like science in general, they’re more than willing to spike it in any particular instance, on any particular pet issue. Evolution, global warming, vaccines—otherwise “pro-science” people will happily deny reality on these subjects, and not necessarily even experience any cognitive dissonance in doing so.
For the most part, I have tended to feel it is unfair to call such individuals “anti-science.” If someone denies science on one particular topic, but nevertheless thinks science is a groovy thing in general, I figure they’re not being anti-science, so much as just being human.
However, new polling data from Lawrence Hamilton, of the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, suggests that the “anti-science” epithet really does apply to many U.S. Republicans—at least on environmental issues.
Hamilton’s data once again show that Republicans, in New Hampshire and elsewhere, doubt and deny climate science, doubt there is consensus on the issue among scientists, and are bizarrely confident that they know a lot about the issue. Dunning-Kruger, anyone?
When it comes to the specific issue of global warming, such things have been shown before. But Hamilton also included a question you don’t see as much in these polls:
Would you say that you trust, don’t trust, or are unsure about scientists as a source of information about environmental issues?
When you ask Americans this particular question, and break the result down by political party, you find a dramatic asymmetry. 67 percent of Democrats trust environmental scientists, 26 percent are unsure, and only 6 percent don’t trust them. But then look at the Republicans: 42 percent trust environmental scientists, 35 percent are unsure, and 22 percent explicitly say they don’t trust them.
What these untrusting Republicans are saying, basically, is that scientists can’t be expected to get it right on environmental issues. They are no longer merely rejecting established science on the climate issue, then. They’re creating an “out-group” and putting all environmental scientists in it.
In turn, that means that whenever the next environmental issue comes along, we can expect these Republicans to inherently distrust what scientific experts have to say about it. In other words, their animus goes far beyond climate science. And if that isn’t anti-science behavior, I don’t know what is.
Why do Republicans behave this way? It has a lot to do, I suspect, with the vast liberalism of science and academia in general. As I have extensively documented (see previous link), Democrats today are basically the party of experts, scientists, and Ph.Ds. This is a big change from the situation that obtained 30 years ago. And Republicans have reacted against this left-clustering of knowledge by coming to dismiss much of “liberal” academia, and also much of science, across the board.
But for precisely this reason, unlike 30 years ago, many Republicans now really are fundamentally anti-science. As the campaign season heats up this year, expect to see evidence of this aplenty.