Conservatives and Science

A new study just released by a sociologist at the University of North Carolina provides two pieces of interesting information.  The study finds that conservatives, particularly college-educated conservatives, are losing confidence in the scientific community.

The study also provides an unexpected and surely unplanned bonus:  it serves as a perfect example of the intellectual dishonesty that has led educated conservatives to lose their faith in the scientific community.

Just check out the story about the study in the well-respected Scientific American.  The headline reads, "Conservatives Lose Faith in Science over Last 40 Years."

The subtitle adds detail, saying "a new academic analysis finds conservatives expressing more and more distrust in science in recent decades, particularly educated conservatives."

Unfortunately for the reputation of Scientific American, the study says no such thing.  In fact it reports that educated conservatives have lost faith in the "scientific community."  The two -- science and the scientific community -- are without basis simply assumed to be one and the same.

Author Gordon Gauchat says his study is based on the data  found in the 2006 through 2010 General Social Surveys, which he chose "because it contains a wide variety of items that probe different aspects of public trust in the scientific community."

So far, so good.  But then he makes a leap of faith that is simply breathtaking:  "These analyses suggest that the confidence measure used in this study is a reasonable approximation of a favorable disposition toward science."

Hey, Doc.  You can tart it up with all the academic jargon you like, but you're still making a rather large, and wholly unscientific, assumption.

Note, too, that Gauchat makes no mention of Climategate, the scandal that arose in 2009 when climate researchers around the world were found to have been fudging their findings.  The fallout from Climategate almost certainly had a big impact on the data.

None of this matters to Gauchat, or to the editors at Scientific American.  Or to the dozens of other media outlets that have picked up and run with the story.

In fact the real question, the one waiting to be asked and answered, is:  who would have faith in this community?

Reach Ted Dawes at