Scientists are godless liberals

By Razib Khan | July 10, 2009 2:39 am

Pew has a new survey out, Public Praises Science; Scientists Fault Public, Media. Lots of interesting facts, though most are not too surprising. Scientists accept evolution at a far greater rate, are less religious and more liberal, than the general public. This is all known. But the report is worth reading, there’s a lot of data. One point which might surprise some, young scientists are much more God-believing than older ones. I think one explanation for this might be that older scientists are selection biased.We know that NAS members are far more godless than the general scientariat, so I wouldn’t be surprised if those who leave science are disproportionately religious (one could suggest that these are individuals who are also more psychologically normal and rational in their life choices). Though I do find it ironic that the current scientist in the news, Francis Collins, is a white evangelical, when that group is incredibly underrepresented in science (3% of scientists vs. 19% of the general public).
Below the fold are a bunch of figures that I thought were of particular interest. But here is the sample size for the scientists:


  • B.B.

    Interesting how older scientists are less likely to believe in God than younger ones. The trend goes in the opposite direction amongst the general publics.

  • Paul Browne

    An interesting survey, I was somewhat surprised at the figures for public vs scientist support on “controversial” issues, and I wonder to what extent the levels of support among the general public reflected the “cold question” nature of the survey, i.e that the questions did not come with any information or context.
    There certainly seems to be a lot of work still to do for scientists and science advocates, on these issues.
    Given the amount of publicity given to anti-vaccine campaigns in the past few years I was rather surprised to see that 69% of the public support mandatory vaccination. Perhaps this is a reflection of the fact that vaccination is the only one of the 6 topics with which the majority of those questioned would be expected to have had direct personal experience. Might the lesson be that scientists need to find a way to make these issues more immediately relevent to non-scientists?

  • Lab Lemming

    According to that last table, the verdict is,
    “Scientists are Godless liberals, but we like them anyway.”

  • Tom Bri

    Interesting. John Hawks has a related post up with the information that scientists are half again as likely as the general public to think that government programs are well run.
    Are scientists just that ivory-tower insulated from common life? Or are the sorts of things scientists are concerned about just better run than the things the public has to deal with day by day?
    I suspect that since scientists tend to be pretty smart, they have less problem believing in a society run in a top-down fashion, that would benefit them more than it would a more average person.

  • Don

    Razib: Can you give a definition of “..psychologically normal and rational in their life choices”?

  • Michael Pentagron

    NIH is perhaps the most important civilian U.S. science agency; it is certainly is the one with the largest Congressional budget. The NIH director is a public spokesperson for science and a role model. Would you support a person as NIH director who publicly announced her or his deep belief in unicorns? Well, Francis Collins is a religious fanatic. When he speaks about his religious beliefs he makes no sense. His religious fanaticism irreparably damages his credibility as a scientist. He is not an appropriate choice as NIH director.

  • Luke Lea

    I see Geoscientists are the lease religious of all. Hmmm. No wonder they don’t trust the stability of the climate system.

  • Bob Sykes

    Half Sigma has some opinions regarding AAAS and the “scientists” polled.

  • CW

    Are scientists just that ivory-tower insulated from common life?

    Interesting the way you just skip right to trying to decide why they’re wrong (and come up with “they’re self-serving”) without even considering the possibility that they might hold that opinion for good and valid reasons.

  • razib

    “Half Sigma has some opinions regarding AAAS and the “scientists” polled.”
    *shrug* there are plenty of polls. all show scientists are godless liberals. you can even look at donations to political parties. in the archives. AAAS isn’t a liberal organization, it’s an organization of liberals. sigma has the arrow of causality off.

  • Marion Delgado

    Tom Bri has it backwards. It’s corporations that are top-down. Government programs, while they have corporation-like hierarchical structures, are ultimately answerable to the demos instead of to the oligos. The same is true of labor unions and community organizations. Science itself has usually been a “government program” that is largely bottom-up. The only bottom-up conservative organizations are some churches and the majority of initiative/measure/referendum campaigns.
    CW’s also right about the petitio principii involved in asking the “why” of something not proven to exist.

  • tom bri

    CW, I did posit that perhaps organizations scientists are concerned with ARE run better than the average government program, which would mean scientists are right where they are concerned, and the general public is right about the things that concern them.
    I am thinking public schools in big cities, for example. I doubt that many scientists send their kids to run-down urban-center schools.
    To Marion Delgado. Do you really believe that government programs are answerable to the ‘demos’? It seems to me that the new ‘oligos’ is the educated managerial class that runs government programs. Public teacher unions, for example. Corporations are falling right and left, but government programs seem to live on forever.

  • oatwhore

    Using animals for research and forced injections for children sound so liberal, don’t they?
    And, #10, you have some serious delusions about government.

  • Thanos

    Regarding the sample rates of the different science sectors, how were they weighed? Are those representative of the percentage of scientists in those fields? (notice that Bio / med is sampled nearly 12:1 vs. Geo science)

  • sg

    “One point which might surprise some, young scientists are much more God-believing than older ones. ”
    I was wondering when it would start to show up. Larger pool to draw from. It will be interesting to see what the trend is 10 and 20 years from now. It may be as you say that the more religious leave. In 2008 10% of students were in private school but 20% of SAT takers were from private schools. I don’t know what percent of those private schools are religious but it is safe to say it is more than zero. No public schools are religious. It would be interesting to see religious orientation of college freshmen with Math SAT over 750. Seems many future scientists would be drawn from that group.

  • Charles Iliya Krempeaux

    Razib, you said…

    “Half Sigma has some opinions regarding AAAS and the “scientists” polled.”

    *shrug* there are plenty of polls. all show scientists are godless liberals. you can even look at donations to political parties. in the archives. AAAS isn’t a liberal organization, it’s an organization of liberals. sigma has the arrow of causality off.

    Out curiosity, does the definition of “Scientist” in these other polls include engineers? (Or just people in academia?)

  • Eli

    Tom Bri, there is a difference between programs “being run well” and programs “not being run at all”. Much of what the government does is work that no one else wants to do on a guaranteed, equal-access basis. This is good because it provides services (like schools for poor urban kids), but bad because it isn’t necessarily a competitive market.
    OT, I noticed that the question “does science conflict with your religious beliefs” could have different interpretations. Many people refuse to accept the science, simply call it “bad”, and therefore find no conflict with the “good” science!

  • Jim Franklin

    The more you know, the less religious you are. So it is not surprising that younger scientists are more religious than older scientists. Give them a few years and they will shed the shackles of religious indoctrination.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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