Science Denial Linked To Free Market Ideology, But “Smart Idiots” Are Dwindling

ten-tall-tales-climate-change-skeptics-29-Jun-11Climate science denial may finally be waning on the right, but there’s still a long way to go.  The Guardian assesses the roots of this denial, dispelling the myth that anti-vaccination ideology is a mirror on the left of climate science rejection on the right:

A 2013 paper by Stephan Lewandowsky and colleagues investigated the links between ideology and science denial. The study similarly found no evidence of symmetrical science denial between liberals and conservatives on different issues. The authors concluded that conspiratorial thinking and free market support – both prevalent on the political right – were most strongly related to science denial:

Free-market worldviews are an important predictor of the rejection of scientific findings that have potential regulatory implications, such as climate science, but not necessarily of other scientific issues. Conspiracist ideation, by contrast, is associated with the rejection of all scientific propositions tested.

Notably, left-wing anti-vaccination beliefs are more motivated by distrust of the pharmaceutical industry rather than broad-based rejection of science (although I imagine there’s some overlap).

Meanwhile, the pervasive phenomenon of smart, stubborn science-deniers continues:

This rising distrust of science is particularly high among higher-educated conservatives, in what’s been coined the “smart idiot” effect. Essentially, on complicated scientific subjects like climate change, more highly-educated ideologically-biased individuals possess more tools to fool themselves into denying the science and rejecting the conclusions of experts.

The article does note that “smart idiot” demographic change will take its toll:

However, there is good news. For one, climate denial is largely limited to a small and dwindling group of old, white, male conservatives; hence, it’s not a tenable long-term position for the Republican Party. Like opposition to gay marriage, science denial is a position that will increasingly alienate young voters in particular, who will bear the brunt of the consequences of climate inaction.

It’s a shame it has to come to that, rather than having the overwhelming evidence and weight of scientific consensus change attitudes. But perhaps in that respect, attitudes about climate change science are no different than our country’s polarized attitudes about a host of political issues.


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