If you are wondering why the Republican base is screaming about science and mocking global warming and thinks Jesus rode a dinosaur, it is because that is what the GOP elites want them to believe:
This is not because conservatives are a bunch of undereducated yahoos. In fact, quite the opposite:
Conservatives with high school degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and graduate degrees all experienced greater distrust in science over time….In addition…conservatives with college degrees decline more quickly than those with only a high school degree . These results are quite profound, because they imply that conservative discontent with science was not attributable to the uneducated but to rising distrust among educated conservatives.
In other words, this decline in trust in science has been led by the most educated, most engaged segment of conservatism. Conservative elites have led the anti-science charge and the rank-and-file has followed.
Just another arrow in the quiver for the next time you hear a “reasonable” Republican lament the behavior of the party. None of this was an accident.
God, I so love the term “the base”
it fits. to a damned T.
Shades of Dunning-Kruger? The more educated conservatives are, the more likely they are to ignore experts even when the have no expertise in a particular subject themselves?
The funny thing about this for me is that pretty much all of the science faculty on my campus are a bunch of fundies. How they manage to be fundies and still become tenured science faculty at a public university is a mystery.
Maybe we need to redefine educated.
@PeakVT: That’s not what Dunning-Kruger says, though. There is a phenomenon wherein smarter and more educated people are more able to convince themselves of something totally wrong, but it’s not D-K. I don’t know if it has a name.
In future centuries, there will be much written about how a wide swath of the population of a major global power was seduced into a trance-like state of ignorance and insanity. Or maybe this will just be one of history’s minor footnotes, as the Chinese and Indians of 2250 A.D. will be too busy to spend much thought on the decline and fall of a bunch of backwards-ass, impoverished and irrelevant white denizens of North America.
@TooManyJens: That’s what I thought too. IIRC, DK means the smarter you are, the less likely you are to think you are especially intelligent, whereas the dumber you are, the more likely that you think you are more intelligent than others, and that you are right all the time.
Or something to that effect.
Case in point. Limbaugh went on for an hour today about the fact that Former Dean of Harvard Law School and now SCOTUS Justice Kagan “didn’t know the law” like Limbaugh did.
I wonder how many of those elite Republicans got degrees from Bible colleges and other in-bubble institutions.
Leo Strauss rears his head.
Its not clear what’s driving what in this study.
It could be that if you take an average conservative and educate him more, he becomes more hostile to science. Or it could be that if you take a pool of conservatives and educate them more, the ones who were originally least hostile to science will change their views once provided with evidence, meaning only the most hostile to science will remain conservative.
In other words, does education make conservatives more anti-science, or does education make less anti-science conservatives more liberal? The results of this study don’t actually answer that question.
@BenjaminJB: A lot of them may have gone to mainstream universities, but are the mediocre offspring of affluent parents. If you are lucky enough to have reasonably affluent parents, a college degree is practically guaranteed unless you suffer from an extreme developmental disability or substance abuse problem.
@BenjaminJB: I blame Business schools across the nation.
@gaz: More or less, yeah. It’s not so much about intelligence as it is about competence in a given area, though.
I wonder what the breakdown would be if they looked at BA degrees versus BS degrees.
I think that’s yet another manifestation of the deep right-wing belief that there is no such thing as a woman or minority who is smarter than any random white man.
Seriously. They really think that even the dumbest, least educated white guy is more qualified to be a Supreme Court justice than Elena Kagan because she’s a woman. Same thing with Obama — they keep insisting that he must be dumb because, well, just look at him!
It’s a truly bizarre belief to cling to, but cling to it they do.
The division between the two can be kind of arbitrary, though. My biology degree is a BA, and it was the more scientifically rigorous of the two biology programs available at the time at my University.
DougJ, Head of Infidelity
What about principled Hayekian conservatives like Megan McArdle and Tyler Cowen? Surely you should qualify all of this with a mention of their sophisticated, intellectually honest thoughts on this matter.
Reading the link to Chris Mooney via Kevin Drum was depressing. I’ll never understand why conservatives are so attracted to authoritarian views on everything. I know they like yes or no answers with no gray areas but I can’t imagine living that way. Real life is not simple no matter how hard they try to make it so.
@DougJ, Head of Infidelity: I can only assume that it’s easier to say things like that on the Internet, where you don’t have to keep a straight face.
No, but maybe it makes it easier psychologically if you can blame all the complexity on other people not following your authoritarian rules. I don’t know.
@BenjaminJB: Maybe we can start calling them “Bubble colleges.” I know I will.
Strikes me that they’ve abandoned “math” as well.
You didn’t say that “Shooter” was commenting over there. Aaargh. I’d managed to avoid his idiocy for well over a year.
His bottom line? Liberals who work in science are “scientists” not scientists.
All you have to do is read the winger comments to see the problem in black and white.
Steve Benen pointed this out a while back. They used to accept global warming, but the party elites told them to stop, so they did. I wonder if there are any Trading Places styles bets being made about what kind of stupid things they can make the loonies believe.
being educated is no longer hip for the modern conservative. it’s all “common sense” and logical fallacies these days. a slippery slope argument leading to something scary can trump any scientific fact. occam’s razor no longer contains the first part of the clause “all things being equal”. the dummies are tired of being called dummies but not willing to do the work to become “educated” so just like the Bobs did in Office Space to get rid of Milton, they’re “fixing the glitch”.
@TooManyJens: I forgot about the hard sciences like Chemistry, Biology and Physics that grant BA degrees.
Thanks for throwing a monkey wrench in that theory.
@TooManyJens: The phenomena are different, but the similarity I see is a mismatch between self-ascribed competency and actual competency. The reasons are certainly different, though.
The conservatives I know all seem to depend on authority to keep themselves in line. Whether it’s church or the military or whatever, they seem to need something outside themselves to police their behavior. That seems to lead to their believing that everyone is like them and incapable to doing anything unless forced to do it. Hence the authoritarian mindset.
The thing is that Limbaugh just amuses me these days. The other day he was waffling about how the advertisers that had pulled out were now “suffering greatly” because of the loss of business of his listeners and I just guffawed considering that most of his listeners are poor, elderly white folks who probably would never be able to afford a sleep number bed (or at least not more than once in their lifetime) don’t have the spare cash to send flowers or buy gold, and have such shit credit that they never have to worry about someone stealing their identity. Many of them say they don’t even have cable or internet cause they can’t afford it, so they get all their news from Rush. Poor sods.
My mate often says in disgust that they are scared of everything. Aside from the avarice factor, I do think that deep fear verging on panic drives the obsession to control every facet of life.
Steve in DC
I think it’s more tossing out information that holds you back from doing what you want. Take any sort of environmental issue. Environmental regulations impact the profit of a business. Which is why you see business leaders railing against them all the damn time. I know a fair amount of “reasonable Republicans” who fully admit things like pollution and global warming exist but rail against them all the time. As they feel that liberal elites are simply using those issues to attack business, take profits, and usher in some sort of hippy green energy future.
About two and a half years ago, I was unemployed, and I was approached by a recruiter through LinkedIn. Being unemployed and therefore desperate, and naive to boot, I was thrilled — maybe this wasn’t a sure thing, but it was a solid lead! (Later, of course, I realized that most recruiters are worse than useless, with the best recruiters doing nothing to get you a job but will trade small resume tips for LinkedIn connections.)
This guy liked the fact that my graduate degree was from the place he attended as an undergraduate (despite the fact that the school, although very good, wasn’t an engineering powerhouse). He mentioned that he had known Steve Chu, the physics Nobel Laureate and current Secretary of Energy, when they were both younger. His assessment? “Smart guy, but it’s a shame he drank the global warming Kool Aid.”
And what did I do? I gave a half smile and a non-committal response, which should give you an idea as to my integrity in somewhat trying circumstances. But the takeaway for me wasn’t that Republicans are complete jackasses — I had known that already.
It was that, somewhere in my future, if I worked very hard, I could be in a situation where I could meet with supplicants of various types, and throw out the most insane observations (“I can’t believe people actually think that we actually landed on the moon!”, “Of course aliens from outer space built the pyramids.”, “I dropped out of graduate school when I realized that I was expected to parrot the absurd belief that the Earth was round, instead of flat, which it obviously is.”) just to watch their pained reactions as they keep from screaming at me in frustration.
In 8 hours, there’s a drawing for $540 million. You better believe I bought tickets. And you better believe that I’m going to blow past “eccentric” on my way to full-blown crazy if I win. Watch out, suckers.
People on the Right distrust science and rationality because they are adhereing to the conservative tribal shibboleth that places emotion above reason. It is not simply that they don’t believe in science. It is that to be identified with the group to which they desire inclusion one must hold the tribal opinion that the subjective, i.e., “feeling” must supercede objective reality.
Sounds like it’s time for more compromise and bipartisanship from the Democrats. Because when your opponents don’t believe in basic science, the thing to do is not to fight them, it’s to meet them halfway (or more like 90% of the way, given the last three years).
@Litlebritdifrnt: It’s like after the Chilean earthquake and tsunami when Rush spent a day lambasting the pin headed, chicken-little USGS scientists who predicted the arrival of that wave in Hawaii within 10 minutes of its actual arrival, and predicted it would be 1-2 m high – because it was only 1 meter high and didn’t do any damage.
@bemused: Authoritarianism offers certainty (even though it rarely delivers), and the power to enforce certainty to those who become part of the the authority.
The impact of religiosity – and the focus of “beliefs” that are independent of any “test” — combined with the need to impose and be obedient, I believe, forces even educated rightwingers into systems of thinking that are like stovepipes with no connection to each other. The must obediently believe whatever the dogma dictates without thought, because thought might result in questioning, then disobedience. To many in the right wing — religion = obedience and if one is not obedient, then harsh punishment follows. All of this happens on a non fully conscious level because again, consciousness would break down the walls that sustain the system…I do believe that it was the addition of the christianists who pushed the right into the ultimate crazy …
Digby had a good post on this. Science used to be all about devising bigger bombs and winning the cold war, so conservatives loved it. Now it’s all about global warming and evolution, so conservatives hate it.
They believe in their ideals rather than facts. When science no longer is supporting their ideals, it is the enemy.
I’d be curious to know why the “smarter” conservatives distrust science, or what’s driving it. I wonder if it’s because they used to equate science with futurism and “progress,” and now it’s mostly about the fact that there’s not an unlimited capacity for crapping up the world? Or that the public face of science is less often Real Americans in lab coats and horn-rimmed glasses and more frequently swarthy foreign types who talk funny? In other words, all the batsh!t stuff which usually animates conservatives. Maybe the degree of their distrust is just a function of how much information they seek out, which seems to correlate pretty well with education. Not to say they understand it, just that it exposes them to more of what they don’t want to see or hear…
Therefore, liberals are just pretending they aren’t also terrified, out of control and terrified of losing control. No wonder they think we lie like rugs.
My experience with recruiters is that they couldn’t tell the truth if their lives depended on it. Kind of like Mitt Romney.
Steve in DC
It’s not full distrust. Science that you can make a huge profit off of, via new ways to drill for gas and process oil, fuck yeah they love it. Science that points to this being a problem which will cost big business millions of dollars to work on, they’ll scream up and down about academics, liberals hating business, and then trot out science to say they are wrong.
This is a case of “if it helps me make a profit, and helps business it’s good. If it hurts business and cuts into profits it’s those damn liberals attacking business again” that dominates just about all elite conservative thinking.
...now I try to be amused
Ooh, interesting question.
I wonder if conservatives distrust science more out of disillusionment. When I was a kid in the 1960s, I heard and read lots of promises that science was going to make our lives all better, like Disney’s Tomorrowland. Something scientists and science-minded people didn’t watch out for, was a lot of people coming to believe in science in a quasi-religious way. Of course, science wasn’t a panacea, and the believers took it the wrong way.
Scientists do a lousy job of managing public perception of science because they assume everyone is as rational as they are.
This doesn’t surprise me at all. The more educated they are, the more likely they are to spend lots of time delving into Ideologically Approved radio, television, newspapers and blogs, and thinking about them. And when all your knowledge is based on a foundation of bullshit, spending more time thinking about it just means absorbing more and more bullshit.
Put it like this – in the Soviet Union circa 1980, the Chief Ideologue of the Communist Party was probably a much more educated man, in all respects, than a Moscow cab driver, and could probably have argued him into the ground in a matter of seconds. But I’ll bet you the cab driver had a better sense of how the economy was doing.
(“High Misinformation Voter” as opposed to “Low Information Voter,” also too).
I suspect this effect explains much of the result. It’s not clear from skimming the study whether individuals were resampled in succeeding years, or whether each year’s sample was fully random. If the latter (as I suspect), then your hypothesis seems likely.
I think that it’s pretty much that evolution and climate change antagonize important conservative interests. Broader science is just a bystander. There has always been a level of hostility to evolution among fundamentalists, and that hasn’t grown a lot. But the hostility to climate change has been carefully cultivated by corporate interests and it’s been cultivated in the most destructive fashion possible. It isn’t just that the scientists are wrong; they’re engaged in an evil conspiracy.
This approach has consequences. If you think that science is OK, but that scientists are getting one thing wrong, then you can retain your respect for the overall field. But if you think that scientists are just corrupt and evil there is no value in science at all. And the right-wing has enthusiastically injected that particular poison into the national bloodstream.
@Steve in DC:
Yeah, sounds like we’re talking in basically the same direction. Of course, that ability to pivot based on how badly one wants to hear something smacks of situational ethics, which I thought was supposed to be the great liberal signifier? Heh indeedy!
I’ve dealt with 3 who weren’t dishonest, but in those cases, it became clear very quickly that I wasn’t going to get the job. 2 of them gave me some useful advice:
— Check my references carefully (a no-brainer now, but useful then), and
— When your resume is in Word format, do not put your name and contact information in a separate header. It will look fine to you, but it will render that part of your resume un-machine-readable.
The 3rd one was straightforward about the job requisition, and after talking to me, got back to me the next day to let me know that it wasn’t a good fit, based on the hiring company’s responses.
But if I ever actually get a job due to a recruiter, I’ll be amazed.
Looking at people like Bart Ehrman, I would guess that it’s the latter more than the former and people who are willing to accept evidence contrary to what they initially believed will move towards the liberal side, while people who are not open to that will stay on the conservative side. That’s just a guess, though.
ETA: Short version of Erhman for those who don’t feel like clicking – he started studying the Bible because he was a fundamentalist and his studies led him to be an agnostic instead.
I think conservatives, at least after a certain age, see education as a tool to further their cause rather than a goal in itself, and have a mind-block that causes them to pretty much reject right out the door any parts of the “education” that they don’t like (or at best file them away under “opinions differ,” like with global warming).
I knew a conservative once who back in 2009 started going to all these conferences and reading all this stuff about health care in the U.S. Why? “Oh, I don’t know anything about it. And when my liberal boyfriend who’s a pre-med tells me we need universal health care, I need to be able to argue back at him.”
In other words, most Ron Paul supporters?
edit: Oh, Great Christ. As if on cue, someone goes and mentions to our resident Paultard how Starbucks (don’t know if it’s national or just one here) is going to observe Earth Hour tomorrow by turning off its electric lights and using candles instead. I can’t see her from my desk, but it sounds like she’s foaming at the mouth.
If I had to offer up an opinion, it would be that educated conservatives distrust science because, it refuses to confirm, things that they know in their hearts are true.
I would think that it would be especially prevalent in college educated conservatives, because they are so incredibly sheltered, from interacting with scientific data in their normal life.
The “under-educated” conservative, is likely to interact with some kind of science every day.
It’s hard to distrust science when you have a job as a mechanic, or work on an airport tarmac.
However if you work on Wall St, or in marketing or sales, your entire professional day, is basically spent creating alternate realities to sell.
There are absolutes, and they’re comfortable with that. When there are no absolutes, no proven reference by which to judge your own thoughts and feelings, then it only matter what feels right. And what feels right, has nothing to do with what’s technically right (the best kind of right!)
Science tells them that something that feels right so to them, could in fact, be completely wrong…they don’t like feeling like that.
Science makes them feel bad, so there must be something wrong with it.
Steve in DC
I don’t think “ethics” is the right way to put it. The best way I can say it is this.
Conservatives decide what they want to do and then go look for science that enables them to get there. The science must support the goal. The goal is much more important than the science itself.
Liberals take a look at the science in front of them and then figure out where to go from there. The goal must be a product of the science. And the science is of course the most important thing here and the goal can be changed.
These are fundamentally different ways of thinking. Most conservative wars with science are simply wars on science that gets in their way. Many of the top players in the fossil fuel industry are big players in the energy industry at large. It’s not like they won’t be the ones getting your money if we move to wind, solar, geothermal, or even nuclear, they don’t give a fuck it’s still their cash. But they’ll fight tooth and nail against any environmental science that implicates fossil fuels in planet destruction or as the root source of disease in children because that will cut into profits. If it wouldn’t get in the way of increasing profits, and there was no risk of them having to pay for proper waste disposal or medical treatments they wouldn’t care.
And keep in mind that the energy industry, defense industry, and IT industry are all fairly conservative and full of extremely smart people that are very good at science. It constantly leaks out that they damn well knew the problems they were causing and just covered it up for years. Why, the science would get in their way.
Again, conservatives are fine with science and use it constantly to get what they want and advance their goals. Liberals base their goals off all the science they see.
@TooManyJens: One of the theories for why we developed large brains was in order to lie and keep all the lies straight.
Or it could be that the clay that God used to make Adam was heavily seeded with neurons. Its a tough call.
Not sure which One passes Occam’s razor.
@…now I try to be amused:
I have a really interesting book by David J. Skal called Screams of Reason that’s all about the popular culture’s portrayal of science and how people became disillusioned with scientific claims. It’s mostly about sci-fi movies and TV since that’s what Skal writes about, but he makes some good points about how bad science disillusioned people.
A four year science degree gets a student to the point of having the necessary background so as to be able to start to engage with others in the field. As such there’s not a whole heck of a lot of original thinking required, a whole bunch of memorization and intellectual regurgitation is — which fits the Conservative Mind (using the term loosely) which is not unlike a tape recorder or a not terribly well indexed Relational Database.
I think you may have it backwards — BS degrees seem to tend to be awarded in fields like engineering and business administration where the wingnuts tend to gather. BA degrees are more likely to be in fields like English where you can’t avoid being exposed to critical studies of just about everything.
Other than zombie Reagan, there is no person whom the winger base will worship more than someone they perceive to be an “intellectual” winger. “Intellectual winger” is a highly sought-after gig. It’s an ideal position for sociopaths.
Newton Leroy Gingrich – Exhibit A.
Sounds interesting, but… the fact is, “bad science” gave us horrific results long before the current crop of psychos rolled around (the world wars, nuclear weapons, etc). And for some reason, Europe and Asia, which suffered far more from these things, don’t seem to have spawned any pre-Enlightenment anti-science cults on the scale of today’s conservative movement. There’s gotta be more to it, IMHO.
Steve in DC
As someone that’s working on a BS you take a lot of critical studies as well. It’s not as if it’s just physics, math, and hard sciences. English, psychology, philosophy, history, are all part of it as well. They make sure your BS is very well rounded. Now after that things change a good bit. If I went on to post graduate school it would be solid math and computer science classes.
There is nothing (well, not much) new here. The rulings associated with the word ‘science’ currently defy their cultural shibboleths. Therefor ‘science’ cannot be trusted. Any ruling of science that doesn’t conform has always been mocked and distrusted. That’s why we had a Monkey Trial in the first place.
The only real difference is we’re experiencing an Angry Old People bubble of very reactionary tribal positions. It’s caused by the Baby Boom and our current crop of cloud yellers having watched society become so much more liberal in the last 40 years they’re freaking out. In 1968, when you said a black man could one day be president you knew it was a hypothetical you’d never live to see.
Taking William Buckley’s definition of a Conservative – and why not? — as a man standing athwart history shouting, “STOP!” it’s obvious why the psycho-epistemology of Conservationism is the antithesis of what Science is all about.
They have a love-hate relationship with “intellectualism.” It’s one of the filthiest words in their vocabulary, one of the worst things to call someone and an identity marker that someone’s not to be trusted, normally – unless it looks like one of their might break into the club, at which point they go absolutely ecstatic and sit around listening to him in rapt attention.
They have a similar relationship with pop culture.
@bemused: Scared and PARANOID. My goodness, I don’t know if you have ever waded into any sort of forum for shooting sports, but the paranoia there is awe-inspiring. I once took leave of my senses and tried to discuss one of these odious “guns on campus” laws. Holy crap – what nonsense. Basically everyone should carry all the time – of course with a bullet in the chamber. I pointed out that professors would be sitting ducks for unstable students with a grievance and the consensus was that professors should conduct office hours with a loaded handgun on their desk. Hopeless.
Meanwhile, I am at a science meeting in London and my colleagues are having a field day with those conservatives and science findings. I am basically reduced to admitting that my country is batshit insane and rushing headlong to the bottom. Sucks.
The fact that the number of conservatives who pursue advanced degrees has been declining over time suggests that this is a lot of it.
if you want to understand this, read the Republican Brain.
i think Cole won’t dooo eet.
because he’s pants wetting terrified that Chris Mooney is right.
Do they think this kind of world would be a good place to live, or do they just think the world we live in now is so full of horrors that this is preferable?
Because if there’s one thing Cole is known for, it’s avoiding any information that might lead him to an unpleasant conclusion.
Is that a Frappenzilla or a Rageacchino? I can never keep straight the names of those expensive coffee-based drinks.
no, its because of morphological and functional differences in conservative and liberal brains.
its because of neuropolitics and red/blue genetics and social network theory and rubber banding and game theory and evo bio and cog neurosci.
its because conservatives and liberals ARE DIFFERENT!
@TooManyJens: Hmmmm, a bit concerned over your use of the word “think” in this context, these guys seem barely sentient. /snark
Part of this weird world view re: guns on campus, is that they honestly have no understanding of the academic world or why the hell any student who came to my office to discuss something MIGHT be upset to see a loaded handgun on my desk. Literally. All they knew was that if they were a student (hahahahahaha) they would be fine with it.
It’s like having a discussion with my not-so-brilliant beagle, but at least she is lovable . I think most of these guys are profoundly ignorant assholes. And I wish they would stop trying to push these guns on campus laws through our idiotic legislature. But again, who needs book-learning anyway?
@JCT: they believe in their right to hold stupid, bad, wrong ideas, and also in their right to never have to listen to reasonable logical counter-arguments.
we are not the same.
I wonder if the sweet spot for thinking everyone should run around armed is someone who thinks there are killers around every corner but has never actually experienced violence.
@Steve in DC: This is the way that all religions interact with science. Movement conservatism is essentially a religion.
Religions have a problem with opposing facts, not just science. It’s just that most of the opposing facts for movement conservatism comes from science.
@TooManyJens: That is an excellent question. Actually most will admit that they think bad guys are everywhere. When I commented that I was just going to believe that my students won’t want to shoot me , several tried to explain that the world was a bad place and I was naive. I spent 30 years in an outer borough of NYC. These idgits would probably play OK Corrall on the subway every day. And they “train” to shoot bad guys incessantly. Their ammo bills must be a sight to behold. For something that is probably as likely as being hit by lightening. The funny thing is I really enjoy target shooting – but these guys are INSANE.
@BDeevDad: There was a study of critical thinking skills of undergraduates a couple of years back–don’t have the reference–that found such skills were abysmal for students of most disciplines. The students that did very well? Mostly science or Liberal Arts students.
@BDeevDad: “I forgot about the hard sciences like Chemistry, Biology and Physics that grant BA degrees.
Thanks for throwing a monkey wrench in that theory.”
I received a BS due to my math major; if they had noticed my german classes, they should have awarded me a BA.
Well, let’s see – in conservative circles it would be all about “bidness”, because math and science “are really hard (whine, whine)”. So an MBA is much easier to get than ANY Masters in a science/math discipline, therefore, “educated” is very definitely a relative term…
Old Dan and Little Ann
@slag: I read an article today in Rolling Stone about a 22 year old Dartmouth student who blew the whistle on hazing. It’s a horrifying look at how some of the future and current 1% spend their time at a glorified Ivy League School. I’d link it but I simply do not know how.