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.