Thursday, March 29, 2012

Democrats misunderstand science

The LA Times reports:
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.
The report is not available online, and Gordon Gauchat has no info about it on his web site. His view is that the public should blindly accept the policy recommendations of scientists who withhold the details of their studies.
To highlight the dramatic impact conservative views of science have had on public opinion, Gauchat pointed to results from Gallup, which found in 2012 that just 30% of conservatives believed the Earth was warming as a result of greenhouse gases versus 50% two years earlier. In contrast, the poll showed almost no change in the opinion of liberals, with 74% believing in global warming in 2010 versus 72% 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." ...

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 better 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.
So conservatives accept rocket science but do not necessarily accept EPA policy recommendations.

Chris Mooney claims that Gauchat validates his anti-Republican rants:
Gauchat also captures, once again, the “smart idiot” effect: Conservatives becoming more factually wrong — or, in this case, more distrusting of science, which to me is basically the same thing — as their level of education advances. Here let me quote in full, because frankly, the finding can only be called highly disturbing:

…conservatives with high school degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and graduate degrees all experienced greater distrust in science over time and these declines are statistically significant. In addition, a comparison of predicted probabilities indicates that conservatives with college degrees decline more quickly than those with only a high school degree. 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.
Mooney has a funny view of science. If a Republican studies climate science data and decides to distrust the policy recommendations of the global warming alarmists, he calls them "factually wrong" and denialists.

The problem with Mooney is that he does not understand science. Science is a methology for understanding the natural world, not a leftist political tool.

The Gallup poll says:
Although a majority of Americans believe the seriousness of global warming is either correctly portrayed in the news or underestimated, a record-high 41% now say it is exaggerated. ...

Since 1997, Republicans have grown increasingly likely to believe media coverage of global warming is exaggerated, ...
This is not a rejection of science, because the news media stories are exaggerated compared to what the scientific models say.

Other studies have shown that liberals do not understand conservatives.

Update: Jonathan H. Adler writes:
To measure “trust in science” Gauchat relies on data from the General Social Survey (GSS) from 1972 to 2010, in which respondents were asked to rate the degree of “confidence” they have in various social institutions. Yet the GSS specific survey question does upon which Gauchat relies does not actually measure trust in “science.” Rather, the question asks respondents to rate their confidence in “the scientific community.” But “science” and “the scientific community” are not the same thing.

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