Both conservatives and liberals tend to show bias against science that doesn’t align with their political views, say researchers from Ohio State University. In a new study, they found that individuals from both parties expressed less trust in science when presented with facts that challenged specific politicized issues.
For conservatives, this was climate change and evolution, and for liberals, it was hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and nuclear power. The researchers caution, however, that the results shouldn’t be interpreted to create a false balance in which each side could be seen as equally wrong on all issues.
“Our point is there is evidence of bias on both sides, although the bias may appear on different issues,” said co-author R. Kelly Garrett, Ph.D., an associate professor of communication at Ohio State.
For example, adds co-author Erik Nisbet, Ph.D., associate professor of communication and political science, “liberals may be biased about some issues, but that doesn’t mean they are wrong about humans causing climate change. You can’t say our study supports the climate denialism movement.”
For the study, 1,518 participants were told they would be evaluating a new educational website about science. The researchers, however, were actually trying to see how people reacted to science that they knew from previous studies challenged the views of conservatives (climate change, evolution) as well as science that challenged liberals (fracking, nuclear power). They also included science that no one seems to have a problem with (geology and astronomy).
All participants were asked a variety of questions, including their political ideology and their knowledge about science. Then they were randomly assigned one of the six science topics.
They were asked four true or false questions assessing the accuracy of their beliefs about the topic they were assigned. These questions all concerned well-accepted scientific facts.
Participants then viewed the educational website page about their science topic. They were asked to rate how much they felt several emotions, including anger and annoyance, after viewing the website.
Next they were asked questions designed to find out how motivated the participants were to resist the facts presented on the website. For instance, they were asked whether they felt the website was objective or whether it “tried to pressure me to think a certain way.”
Finally, they were asked to rate how much they agreed with five statements that measured their trust in the scientific community. For example, “I am suspicious of the scientific community.” The results showed evidence of bias by both conservatives and liberals, although there were differences in how the two sides reacted.
Both liberals and conservatives felt more negative emotions while reviewing the pages that challenged their views compared to the pages on scientifically neutral topics (geology and astronomy). However, the negative reaction of conservatives when they read about climate change and evolution was four times greater than that of liberals who read about nuclear power and fracking.
Furthermore, one of the more distressing findings of the study was that these polarizing issues made both sides lose some trust in science, Garrett said.
“Even liberals showed lower trust in science when they read about climate change and evolution, issues about which they generally agree with the scientific community. Just reading about these polarizing topics is having a negative effect on how people feel about science.”
The study is published in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.
Source: Ohio State University