Research undertaken by university-based psychology researchers through a survey of a sample of the American population has studied the linkage between conspiracy theory and the rejection of science. The paper, published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE, presents a number of interesting findings, including the following excerpted from the report:
- American Conservatives, but not Liberals, trust in science has been declining since the 1970’s. Climate science has become particularly polarized, with Conservatives being more likely than Liberals to reject the notion that greenhouse gas emissions are warming the globe. Polarization is particularly pronounced with respect to climate change: People who embrace a laissez-faire vision of the free market are less likely to accept that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet than people with an egalitarian-communitarian outlook.
- Conversely, opposition to genetically-modified (GM) foods and vaccinations is often ascribed to the political Left although reliable data are lacking.
- Conspiracist ideation is associated with the rejection of all scientific propositions tested. The involvement of conspiracist ideation in the rejection of science has implications for science communicators.
- Free-market worldviews are an important predictor of the rejection of scientific findings that have potential regulatory implications, such as climate science, but not necessarily of other scientific issues.
- The role of worldview may be attenuated by underscoring the breadth of consensus among scientists: When people are informed of the pervasive consensus about the fundamentals of climate change, they become more likely to endorse the basic premise of global warming, and they attribute a larger share of the observed warming trend to human CO2 emissions.
- Opposition to vaccinations involves a balance between two opposing forces, namely a negative association with free-market endorsement and a compensatory positive association with conservatism. The different polarity of those associations is consonant with the notion that libertarians object to the government intrusion arising from mandatory vaccination programs, whereas people low on conservatism—who, by implication, are liberal or progressive—may oppose immunization because they distrust pharmaceutical companies. The latter link, however, was far from overwhelming.
- Opposition to GM foods was not associated with the worldview constructs. This result is striking in light of reports in the media that have linked opposition to GM foods with the political Left based on statements by political figures. The results provide no evidence that this link holds in the American population at large. This finding is consonant with the fact that among liberals trust in science has remained high and stable since the 1970s.
- People who endorse one conspiracy are known to be likely to also endorse multiple others; thus, the belief that AIDS was created by the government has often been found to be accompanied by the conviction that the FBI killed Martin Luther King or that MI6 killed Princess Diana. Endorsement of conspiracy theories is also associated with people’s own willingness to engage in a conspiracy themselves when deemed necessary. It is not surprising, therefore, that conspiracist ideation has been found to be associated with stable personality variables. We [the researchers] nonetheless prefer to view conspiracist ideation as a cognitive style rather than a potential personality trait because if conspiracist ideation is considered at a cognitive level, its analysis can reveal why it is antithetical to scientific reasoning in several ways.
The complete article, The Role of Conspiracist Ideation and Worldviews in Predicting Rejection of Science, by Stephan Lewandowsky, Gilles E. Gignac, and Klaus Oberauer, is fascinating reading for those involved in communications and dialogue about environmental issues. The article contains much more information from the research and is available at http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0075637#pone.0075637-Ding1