It’s Not Your Imagination: Republicans Really Don’t Like Science

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/26037046@N00/4290206594">Khairil Zhafri</a>/Flickr

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


The premise of the 2005 book The Republican War on Science (by Mother Jones contributor Chris Mooney) was that conservatives in the US hate science. They don’t like evolution, they don’t like global warming—none of that stuff. Now a sociologist set out to figure out if that thesis really is true, and concluded that the right in the US is indeed growing increasingly distrustful of science.

Gordon Gauchat of the University of North Carolina published these findings in the forthcoming issue of the American Sociological Review. He looked back at data from 1974 through 2010, and found that trust in science was relatively stable over that 36-year period, except among self-identified conservatives. While conservatives started in 1974 as the group that trusted science most (compared to self-identified liberals and moderates), they have now dropped to the bottom of the ranking.

Gauchat used data from the General Social Survey, which asked subjects to rate their level of confidence in the scientific community. Here’s what he found: 

Gordon Gauchat/American Sociological Review Gordon Gauchat/American Sociological Review 

The reason for this, according to Mooney and others, is that the “political neutrality of science began to unravel in the 1970s with the emergence of the new right”—a growing body of conservatives who were distrustful of science and the intellectual establishment, who were often religious and concerned about defending “traditional values” in the face of a modernizing world, and who favored limited government. This has prompted backlash against subjects for which there is broad scientific consensus, like global warming and evolution—backlash that has been apparent in survey data over the past three decades.

Mooney, who also has a new book out titled The Republican Brain, also highlights one of Gauchat’s more distressing findings, which is that this trend seems to be more common among conservatives with higher levels of education:

…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.

Yikes. That’s certainly not a good sign for fans of reality-based decision making.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.