Does Activism in Social Science Explain Conservatives’ Distrust of Scientists?

Abstract

Data from the General Social Survey suggest that conservatives have become less trustful of scientists since the 1970s. Gauchat argues that this is because conservatives increasingly see scientific findings as threatening to their worldview. However, the General Social Survey data concern trust in scientists, not in science. We suggest that conservatives’ diminishing trust in scientists reflects the fact that scientists in certain fields, particularly social science, have increasingly adopted a liberal-activist stance, seeking to influence public policy in a liberal direction.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Murray himself strongly supports a causal link. In a 1-star review on Amazon.com, he calls Freedman’s book “a biased attack on the science of psychology, the profession of communications, and the common sense of any educated reader.” In response to a request for sources that refute Freedman (2002), Murray sent us an unpublished paper that did not cite any of Freedman’s work. In response to a follow-up request, he referred us to a special issue of the Hofstra Law Review (Summer 1994), which was published before the book in question.

  2. 2.

    Some journals use two rather than three referees, or will accept a paper if two-out-of-three write a favorable report. Sometimes more than one editor is involved in assessing submissions. If we assume that only one editor and two referees handle a submission, it does not substantially change the estimated probability of facing a discriminator.

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Acknowledgements

Thanks to Lawrence Nichols and Neven Sesardić for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.

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Correspondence to Nathan Cofnas.

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Cofnas, N., Carl, N. & Woodley of Menie, M.A. Does Activism in Social Science Explain Conservatives’ Distrust of Scientists?. Am Soc 49, 135–148 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12108-017-9362-0

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Keywords

  • Public understanding of science
  • Politics and science
  • Trust in science
  • Conservatism
  • Political polarization