Why Do Science Issues Seem to Divide Us Along Party Lines?

The Conversation: “In 2015, researchers asked 2,000 registered voters how deferential they felt politicians should be to science when creating public policy on a variety of issues. On a 10-point scale, participants ranked whether politicians should follow the advice of scientists (10), consider scientific findings in conjunction with other factors (5) or ignore scientific findings completely (1). Issues included climate change, legalizing drug usage, fetal viability, regulating nuclear power and teaching evolution, among other topics.”

“Breaking down responses based on political leanings did reveal some partisan differences. When it comes to deferring to scientific experts on policy issues, conservatives and independents look a lot alike. Averaged across issues, independents said policymakers should weigh science and other factors more or less evenly (5.84), only slightly more than conservatives did (5.58). Liberals, on the other hand, expressed much higher rates of deference to science – across issues, they averaged 7.46.”

“One area in which political beliefs do have an impact is the kinds of scientists that liberals and conservatives are likely to trust. A 2013 study of 798 participants found that conservatives put more faith in scientists involved in economic production – food scientists, industrial chemists and petroleum geologists, for instance – than in scientists involved in areas associated with regulation, such as public health and environmental science. The opposite was true for liberals. Again, this suggests that it’s not simply a matter of conservatives being skeptical of science in general; there’s a much more nuanced relationship between political leanings and trust in scientific expertise.”

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