A recent article published in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science describes an experiment in which liberals and conservatives were given scientific information on climate change and evolution (pro-liberal worldview) and fracking and nuclear energy (pro-conservative worldview) as well as two neutral topics on astronomy and geology.
They found that both liberals and conservatives begin to distrust science when the information involves issues where the science is opposed to their opinions.
Brian Resnick of National Journal explains:
In the nuclear-energy-fracking condition, liberals "had a more negative emotional experience than conservatives, resisted the information more than the conservatives," [Erik Nisbet, a communications researcher at Ohio State University] says. They also indicated a lower trust in science than the liberals in the ideological neutral condition (the geology-astronomy condition). That's right: When liberals are confronted with topics they tend to disagree with, they begin to distrust the science.
"The difference between liberals and conservatives is not that one has biases and one does not," Nisbet says. "It's that we may have biases against specific topics." Conservatives may be seen as antiscience, but that perception arises because scientific topics that are most often discussed are those that most readily offend the conservative worldview.
When conservatives read about evolution or climate change, they too reacted negatively, but their reactions were stronger (i.e., more negative). Nisbet says that could be because climate change and evolution are more salient in everyday discussions than fracking and nuclear power.The really bad news for anyone who loves science is not hard to guess. Politicizing science makes people, liberals and conservatives, generally more distrustful of all science on politicized subjects.
More troubling, Nisbet finds evidence that political discussion on scientific issues may make everyone more skeptical of science. Even liberals, who reported they believe in climate change and evolution, were more skeptical of science in the climate-change-evolution condition than in the neutral geology-astronomy condition. "Both liberals and conservatives had lower trust in science after the exposure to that information," Nisbet says. "Politicizing science may reduce trust for everybody, because it starts raising questions over whether science is being used for political reasons on one side or another."[There's also an interesting video presentation at the end of Resnick's article in which he talks about the differences in the brains of conservatives and liberals when they think.]
H/T Byron York