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Right Wingers Have Anti-Skeptical Rejection Of Science

The popular media has reported the recentsurvey research of Gordon Gauchat as indicating that right wing and religious Americans are increasingly skeptical of science.

Liz Goodwin of Yahoo News writes that Guachat’s survey shows that right wingers “have become dramatically more skeptical of science”. Alan Boyle of MSNBC states that Gauchat’s study describes “conservatives who are skeptical about the scientific elite”. John Hoeffel of the Los Angeles Times reflects on the study, musing that “the conservatives who dominate the primaries are deeply skeptical of science”.

Skepticism, however, is at the heart of science. Science is a process through which new discoveries are tested through disciplined skeptical analysis. Skepticism is the philosophical position that assertions need to be substantiated with facts.

What the survey actually measures is the level of trust that religious and right wing Americans have in science. It suggests that these groups have increasingly levels of distrust in science.

Distrust is not the same thing as skepticism. The distrust of science by religious and right wing Americans described in the survey is based in dedication to ideology. When scientifically-established facts dispute the ideological model of reality held by religious and right wing Americans, increasingly large numbers of those Americans choose to reject the facts rather than rethinking their ideology.

If right wingers and religious Americans were truly skeptical about scientific research, they would change their beliefs when confronted with new information that does not agree with those beliefs. Instead, they keep their beliefs, and simply assert, without factual evidence, that the results of scientific research must not be true.

True skepticism is an honorable and disciplined practice. The label of “skeptic” should not be sullied by connection with people who simply don’t have the strength of character to admit that they’re wrong.

5 thoughts on “Right Wingers Have Anti-Skeptical Rejection Of Science”

  1. Tom says:

    It’s all about “belief” for them – religious mumbo-jumbo trumps science in their minds. “My Gawd’s bigger’n yer Gawd!” Ahaw! Never mind that their anti-life/militaristic bent is completely incompatible with Christian teaching (who would Jesus bomb, mace, torture, imprison, render, or waterboard?). These poor excuses for humans control so much voter ideology due to their accent on bigotry, hatred, misogyny, greed, exceptionalism and all the other base human instincts.

    1. t ball says:

      You’ve hit the nail on the head, Tom.

  2. Tom says:
  3. Bill says:

    As a scientist myself (both by training and by lifelong practice), I have long been critical of scientists who sometimes let their all-too-human foibles and unconscious biases cloud their professional judgements. Still, it must be said, “sometimes” here equals “not very often at all, all things considered.” The scientific system and method which civilization has worked out over the past 400 years or so is just about the best thing going. The checks and balances of peer review, the enforced civil discourse of scientific publication, the very, very high bar for ‘proof’, and the inherent willingness to change our views when better information comes along; all these mechanisms and more have made and kept science as just about the only thing you can trust.

    So what’s going on with this increasing tide of distrust of science? Several things. First and foremost, we Americans live in a depressingly anti-intellectual culture. Smart children in school have always been tormented as “Poindexters” (kids: It Gets Better) because so many Americans look down on thinkers. Second, pundits and politicos who find themselves on the wrong side of an issue need to denigrate science in order to save face, and that’s easy for them to do given point #1 above. “Thou shalt have no other talking heads before me” is the name of the game in politics. Third, because we do such a crappy job of teaching about science (when we bother to try at all), most people have no idea how science works. When they hear of a scientific conclusion which is later falsified they think that invalidates the scientific approach, when quite the opposite is the case: forming a judgement, discovering that it’s wrong, and then refining that judgement is the very essence of science. Admittedly this does lead to some severe cases of whiplash from time to time (“Eggs are bad for you!” “Oops, wait a minute, eggs are good for you!” “Nope, they’re actually bad…I mean, they’re good….”), but that’s the price you pay for trying to actually understand a very, very complicated universe. A foolish consistency remains the hobgoblin of small minds. The goal isn’t to be right. The goal is to be righter today than you were yesterday. Folks who yearn for assurance, consistency, and an unchanging world just can’t relate to that.

    Yes, science has plenty of warts. But at the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding. Ask yourself “what has science ever done for humanity?” The answer is “just about everything you see around you.” Now ask yourself “what has [insert any other belief system here] every done for humanity?” The honest answer has to be “Not much, aside from starting a bunch of wars and oppressing the unfortunate.”

    I know which horse my money’s on.

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