Conservatives increasingly distrust science, study finds

Published: Wednesday, March 28 2012 10:00 p.m. MDT

If climate change is the hot-button environmental issue for conservatives, the liberal corollary is nuclear energy, Mooney said. "There is a long history of liberal distrust on the left," Mooney wrote in a story for AlterNet. "But this impulse puts them at odds with the views of the scientific community on the matter (scientists tend to think nuclear power risks are overblown, especially in light of the dangers of other energy sources, like coal)," he explained.

Although it may be reasonable to assume that liberals will behave like conservatives — that is, with resistance — in response to science that challenges their politics, the research shows something very different, Kahan said. His research shows that liberals do not become more worried about the risks of nuclear power as they become more educated. Rather, educated liberals tend to discount the risks of nuclear energy, moving in the opposite direction and coming more in line with the opinion of the scientific community, Mooney said.

Distrustful moderates

Though Gauchat's work focuses on the growing division between conservatives and liberals, the group the most distrustful of science is comprised of self-identified moderates. Since 1974, moderates' trust in science is considerably lower than that of conservatives and liberals. "Historically, more people characterize themselves as 'moderates' than as either liberals or conservatives," Kahan said. "Conservatives, then, have been historically more trusting than most ordinary, non-partisan citizens," he said.

EMAIL: mwhite@desnews.com

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