Why Do People Argue About Science? Tracing the Ideological Roots of Rejection of Science

Kerr, J. (Victoria University of Wellington), Wilson, M. (Victoria University of Wellington)

There are a number of ‘hot button’ scientific issues where substantial public debate exists despite an overwhelming weight of scientific evidence in favour of one side. Historically opposition has been attributed to a lack knowledge, but a growing body of research highlights the role of ideology. For example, right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) and social dominance orientation (SDO) are predictors of climate change denial. We drew on data from New Zealand student (N = 547) and US online (N = 689) samples to expand this line of research to additional debated scientific issues. We report for the first time that RWA and SDO predict disagreement with mainstream science on evolution, vaccines, genetic modification, and water fluoridation. We examined potential mediators including: political conservatism, free-market beliefs, religiosity, conspiracy mentality, perceived credibility of scientists, and scientific knowledge. Overall, we found substantial variation across issues, with credibility of scientists emerging as the most consistent mediator of the link between ideological attitudes and rejection of science.

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Environment and Health