Why do some reject Science?

Within a scientific context we know specific things to be true, not because they are the current fad or preference, but rather because that is where the data has led us. If new surprising data arrives that leads us to a different conclusion, then that is where we go. If however you reject the process, then you are cast adrift without any means to work out what is and is not true. The consequence of that is a tendency to start embracing all sorts of crazy ideas on almost a whim. This would of course imply that if you buy into one specific crazy idea that is at odds with the current scientific consensus for no good reason, then you would also be prone to being infected with other similar nuttiness. Is this what we observe? Yes it is. Researchers from The University of Western Australia recently produced a study, Motivated Rejection of Science that will soon be published in Psychological Science. It was designed to investigate what motivated the rejection of science by visitors to climate blogs who choose to participate in the ongoing public debate about climate change. They explain here …

More than 1000 visitors to blogs dedicated to discussions of climate science completed a questionnaire that queried people’s belief in a number of scientific questions and conspiracy theories, including: Princess Diana’s death was not an accident; the Apollo moon landings never happened; HIV causes AIDS; and smoking causes lung cancer. The study also considered the interplay of these responses with the acceptance of climate science, free market ideology and the belief that previous environmental problems have been resolved. The results showed that those who subscribed to one or more conspiracy theories or who strongly supported a free market economy were more likely to reject the findings from climate science as well as other sciences.

So yes indeed, those who rejected the current scientific consensus on climate change also bought into other things such as the rejection of the link between tobacco and lung cancer and between HIV and AIDS. So what exactly have they found? Well, within their paper then say …

Although nearly all domain experts agree that human CO2 emissions are altering the world’s climate, segments of the public remain unconvinced by the scientic evidence. Internet blogs have become a vocal platform for climate denial, and bloggers have taken a prominent and influential role in questioning climate science. We report a survey (N > 1100) of climate blog users to identify the variables underlying acceptance and rejection of climate science. Paralleling previous work, we find that endorsement of a laissez-faire conception of free-market economics predicts rejection of climate science (r≈ .80 between latent constructs). Endorsement of the free market also predicted the rejection of other established scientific findings, such as the facts that HIV causes AIDS and that smoking causes lung cancer. We additionally show that endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories (e.g., that the CIA killed Martin-Luther King or that NASA faked the moon landing) predicts rejection of climate science as well as the rejection of other scientific findings, above and beyond endorsement of laissez-faire free markets. This provides empirical conformation of previous suggestions that conspiracies ideation contributes to the rejection of science. Acceptance of science, by contrast, was strongly associated with the perception of a consensus among scientists.

OK, so basically they have empirical data from this study that confirms that those who embrace the following ideas will indeed be prone to ignore the current scientific consensus and also assert that climate change is a myth:

  1. A strong dislike of government interference and want a completely free market – drill where you like, burn whatever you want.
  2. Embraces other conspiracy ideas – Moon landing was faked, CIA plots, etc…

One final key point to make here, where they talk about the Rejection of science, for example climate change skeptics, they do clearly and quite rightly, distinguish that from true scepticism which may prompt the revision of a scientic claim on the basis of evidence and reasoned theorizing. That is because Skepticism is not only at the core of scientific reasoning but has also been shown to improve people’s discrimination between true and false information. Personally I do not use the term “climate change skeptic” because that is an abuse of the term, and so I refer to them as climate change deniers. Links The paper, to be published in Psychological Science can be downloaded as a PDF here.

2 thoughts on “Why do some reject Science?”

  1. Klem writes …”His study was biased, everyone sees that” … I currently don’t, but I’d be interested to find out more. I’m clearly missing some information here, so anything you have that can fill the gap would be interesting, what have you got?

  2. I don’t get why the skeptic side is giving this guy so much attention. His study was biased, everyone sees that, even the alarmists know that it was biased and give his study little credence. So please fellow skeptics, stop talking about this guy, stop giving him publicity and let him fall back into obscurity. We are shooting ourselves in the foot.

    Once his name disappears from the blogosphere, he and his work will be forgotten and rightly so.



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