Science Denial Not Limited To Political Right

Liberals and conservatives are equally motivated to deny information to fit attitudes, according to a new study from social psychologists at the University of Illinois at Chicago. [Photo by Nick Youngson]

In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, many claims have been made that science denial, particularly as it relates to climate change, is primarily a problem of the political right.

But what happens when scientific conclusions challenge liberals’ attitudes on public policy issues, such as gun control, nuclear power or immigration?

A new study from social psychologists at the University of Illinois at Chicago and published online in Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests people of all political backgrounds can be motivated to participate in science denial.

UIC researchers Anthony Washburn, a graduate student in psychology, and Linda Skitka, professor of psychology, had participants indicate their political orientation, evaluate fabricated scientific results, and, based on the data, decide what the studies concluded.

Once they were informed of the correct interpretations of the data, participants were then asked to rate how much they agreed with, found knowledgeable, and trusted the researchers’ correct interpretation.

“Not only were both sides equally likely to seek out attitude confirming scientific conclusions, both were also willing to work harder and longer when doing so got them to a conclusion that fit with their existing attitudes,” says Washburn, the lead author of the study. “And when the correct interpretation of the results did not confirm participants’ attitudes, they were more likely to view the researchers involved with the study as less trustworthy, less knowledgeable, and disagreed with their conclusions more.”

These effects were constant no matter what issue was under consideration, which included six social issues — immigration, gun control, climate change, health care reform, nuclear power and same sex marriage — and one control issue — skin rash treatment.

Rather than strictly a conservative phenomenon, science denial may be a result of a more basic desire of people wanting to see the world in ways that fit with their personal preferences, political or otherwise, according to the researchers.

The results also shed light on science denial in public discourse, Skitka added.

“Before assuming that one group of people or another are anti-science because they disagree with one scientific conclusion, we should make an effort to consider different motivations that are likely at play, which might have nothing to do with science per se,” she said.

9 Comments on "Science Denial Not Limited To Political Right"

  1. Let me see if I got this right. All the ills of the world are caused by climate change and old white men. Think I covered about everything didn’t I……..

  2. nope JD, the one thing that both sides are in denial of is ‘prophecy’ of the bible, folks don’t believe in God – “In God We Trust” really? I don’t think many believe anymore, that prophecy specifically predicts exactly this and these type of increase in earthquakes, storms, weather.. wars and rumors of wars – a great increase in knowledge – things that are wrong said to be right and right said to be wrong – the ways of man today – the souls of the saints of those aborted piled high to the heavens ; the signs of the coming Lord Jesus are evident in all realms. Like the birth pangs of a woman.. they increase. It won’t be getting better – we are living in the most unique time in all history of mankind – the end time and that of the immanent return of Christ. Maranatha! There’s still more to come, but we are close, very close. I’m getting old, I see this happening in my life time…. and many of both sides are in denial. I’m sure my comment will bring more.. won’t change a thing. God Bless America – God Bless Israel. Have a good day.

    • Thank you, Billy B, for your well-thought out comment. I read Ezekiel 37-39 and it’s like reading the daily news, what with the build up of enemy armies just east of the Golan Heights who await the word of their leaders to converge on Israel. I have pondered Jesus’s words in Matthew 24 and it also is like reading the daily news. It isn’t about climate change; it’s about Him separating the wheat from the tares, which is becoming more apparent with each passing day. Maranatha!

    • Maggie Sammons | September 20, 2017 at 3:26 pm |

      The bible also talks about the Kingdom of the North (Russia) winning over the Kingdom of the South (US of A). At least that’s how the JWs put it into modern terms.

  3. Of course there is climate change. It started when this earth was formed, and will stop when this earth is gone billions of years from now. Maybe when it stops the left will stop using it to raise money for them selfs.

  4. Pardon my skepticism and Mr. Spock eyebrow raised in response, but just how and by use of what acceptably reliable scientific methodology did these two, “social scientist researchers” — a graduate student in psychology and a professor of psychology — determine that their “interpretations” of the data, and only their interpretations of that data, are the only “scientifically correct” ones reachable to label anyone as a “science denier” in the first place? Until that information is provided, and subjected to proper scientific review, the only actual science deniers here appear, ironically, to be these self-described “scientific” researchers themselves.

  5. ADI should have taken Skitka`s (almost misspeled that!) advice in the final paragraph before it wrote the article. The assumption that “the right`s” view that man`s effect on the climate is not quantifiable based on the current science is just a different interpretation of the known science, not proof of “science denial.”

  6. A mere slip of the keyboard there.

    It should have read conservative’s
    denial of FAKE^^^ science.

    ^^^For you snowflakes out there that means
    when a “scientist” alters results/ data such
    as has been well documented on this site and

    In the old days they called that fraud; but
    the radicals call it a political necessity.

    • The Oracle of Tucson | September 20, 2017 at 8:59 pm |

      But your attempting to debate people who firmly believe that not only did Al Gore invent the internet, he’s also a “scientist”, and an expert on global warming.

      The Oracle

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