The Republican fluency with science

By Razib Khan | March 28, 2011 12:44 am

The Audacious Epigone has a post up, Republicans are more scientifically literate than Democrats or independents are, where he reviews pro vs. anti-science attitude by party in the General Social Survey. He concludes that in fact Republicans are more scientifically literate across the issues than Democrats. Jason Malloy saw this trend four years ago in the GSS, and to some extent so have I. One point to keep in mind is that a few specific politicized scientific issues are very much the outliers in exhibiting tight partisan valences in opinion.

So another question: are conservatives more scientifically literate than liberals? If scientific literacy correlates with being Republican, and being Republican correlates with being conservative, shouldn’t scientific literacy correlate with being conservative? Not necessarily. Such correlations are not transitive. Generally what I’ve seen in the survey data is that Republicans tend to be more pro-science than conservatives. I think part of it is the voting by economic position which has become less stark in our culture, but still remains a force. In any case, my table to accompany AE’s is below. I used his variables:

ASTROSCI, SCIBNFTS, EXPDESGN, ODDS1, HOTCORE, RADIOACT, BOYORGRL, LASERS, ELECTRON, VIRUSES, CONDRIFT, EVOLVED, EARTHSUN, SOLARREV, EATGM, ICESHEET, SCITEST5, GRNTEST1, GRNTEST5.

For political ideology, it’s pretty simple: POLVIEWS(r: 1-3 “Liberal” ; 4 “Moderate”; 5-7 “Conservative”)

The percentages given are the correct science answer, or the more pro-science answer. If you want to know my criteria for that, don’t ask, just go to the General Social Survey website and enter in the variables above, and you’ll see the results and understand clearly how I categorized things.


Liberate Moderate Conservative
Astrology not scientific 66 61 73
Benefits of science outweight harm 77 70 77
Understand need for control group 83 81 83
Understands probability 89 89 91
Knows center of earth is very hot 94 95 95
Understands nature of radioactivity 80 80 83
Knows father determines baby’s sex 72 72 76
Understands lasers 72 68 72
Knows electrons subset of atoms 76 69 73
Understands antibiotics 60 53 63
Understands plate tectonics 92 92 86
Humans developed from non-humans 69 52 39
Accepts heliocentrism 83 76 81
Understands length of earth’s revolution around sun 79 75 79
Don’t care if food has been genetically modified 15 17 17
North pole on sheet of ice 68 63 63
All man-made chemicals do not cause cancer 54 46 50
Everyone does not die when exposed to radiation 34 25 33
All pesticides cause cancer 16 15 19

For me the most noticeable trend aside from a few ideological issues which are predictable is that moderates are kind of dumb and ignorant. I think this is just an artifact of the fact that more educated and intelligent people are pretty well sorted ideologically, while the less educated and intelligent are more politically uncommitted because they’re not bright enough to think systematically in terms of ideology. The Audacious Epigone did not control for background variables. For example, is the Democratic anti-science bias simply due to the fact that non-Hispanic whites are more pro-science than other groups, and Republicans have a higher proportion of non-Hispanic whites?

I ran a few logistic regressions. I ran them for all groups, and then limited the sample to non-Hispanic whites for a second run. I replicated the same predictors with different dependents. I transformed the independent variables into dichotomous categorical variables when necessary. The numbers you see are all betas, which indicate the relationship between the predictor and dependent variable. All bold betas are statistically significant at p-value 0.05. Also, since most of you won’t know that in the GSS male is coded = 1 and female = 2, etc., I’ve put in plain English words at the end of the sections what the values really mean for the total sample in regards to the statistically significant betas. I invite readers to replicate, expand, and correct.

Astrology is scientific Only non-Hispanic whites
Political Party -0.023 0.024
Political View -0.132 -0.207
Belief in God 0.009 0.013
Education -0.283 -0.359
Vocabulary -0.201 -0.176
Sex 0.244 0.236

Conservatives, more educated, smarter, and male, are more skeptical of astrology

Science is beneficial Only non-Hispanic whites
Political Party 0.092 0.052
Political View -0.005 -0.003
Belief in God -0.033 0.022
Education 0.305 0.298
Vocabulary 0.21 0.221
Sex -0.099 -0.144
Republicans, more educated, and more intelligent think the benefis of science outweigh harms
Understand experimental design Only non-Hispanic whites
Political Party 0.025 0.007
Political View 0.006 -0.012
Belief in God -1.07 -0.082
Education 0.166 0.176
Vocabulary 0.108 0.177
Sex -0.39 -0.118
Educated and intelligent understand what a controlled experiment is
Understand sex determination Only non-Hispanic whites
Political Party -0.061 -0.025
Political View 0.069 0.043
Belief in God -0.054 -0.129
Education -0.045 -0.048
Vocabulary -0.165 -0.065
Sex -0.666 -0.78
Intelligent and women understand sex determination
Understand limitations of antibiotics
Political Party 0.117 0.048
Political View -0.015 0.012
Belief in God -0.13 -0.074
Education 0.375 0.431
Vocabulary 0.363 0.308
Sex 0.553 0.691
Republicans, less atheistic, more educated, more intelligent, and women, understand antibiotics
Humans evolved
Political Party 0.029 0.052
Political View 0.252 0.355
Belief in God 0.75 0.789
Education -0.199 -0.258
Vocabulary -0.052 0.061
Sex 0.33 0.368
Liberals, atheists, more educated, and men understand that human evolution occurs
All die if exposed to radioactivity
Political Party -0.053 0.026
Political View -0.019 -0.139
Belief in God 0.071 0.058
Education -0.238 -0.214
Vocabulary -0.251 -0.24
Sex 0.66 0.345
Republicans, more educated, and more intelligent, understand that all radiation exposure is not fatal

A few notes. Some of the tendencies aren’t monotonic. For example, ignorance on many topics often peaks among political moderates. If conservatives/liberals are less ignorant, but one of the two is more ignorant, then the result will be that ignorance may correlate with one of the two antipodal viewpoints, even though moderates are the most ignorant. Second, these groups aren’t homogeneous. The attitude of libertarian conservatives to evolution is going to be different from conservatives as a a whole, while the attitude of liberals who are scientists to nuclear power is going to be different from liberals as a whole. Finally, there’s a tendency for the Democratic coalition to be skewed to those at the top and bottom of the educational qualification ladder (multi-modal). Republicans tend to be bunched in the middle. This means that these sorts of simple correlations don’t take into account the details in the shape of the distribution.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Data Analysis, GSS
MORE ABOUT: Data Analysis, GSS
  • James

    Why do so many “accept heliocentrism?”

  • http://deepeco.ucsd.edu/~hye/ Hao

    @ James: because it’s true? or are you asking why the numbers aren’t higher than they are?

  • Ian

    The column “doesn’t understand antibiotics” has significantly fewer moderates failing to understand antibiotics. Should that be “understands antibiotics”? If not, it’s an odd outlier.

  • Ian

    Mostly what jumps out here is the fact that differences aren’t that big…until you get to evolution (and, presumably, climate change). Which suggests that people to reject certain scientific positions when, in fact, they should “know better”.

  • Ben

    The level of scientific literacy is higher than I expected. It seems weird to say moderates are “kind of dumb and ignorant” when they only do a few percent worse than conservatives/liberals in most cases.

    It would be interesting to measure susceptibility to propaganda by political affiliation. Put together an emotive two-minute video about how a spheroidal earth puts our children at risk of falling off, then measure the effect on flat-earthism.

  • JMW

    I would argue that you are recklessly generalizing and succumbing to your own bias.

    From the data in the first listing (leaving out issues which have political issues attached, i.e., “humans developed from non-humans”):
    - liberals and conseratives score the same on 4 topics
    - liberals score better than conservatives on 7 topics (here I’m assuming that a LOWER score is better on the topics that begin “doesn’t understand”)
    - conservatives score better than liberals on 6 topics
    - on those topics where conservatives score better than liberals, the average difference is about 3.
    - on those topics where liberals score better than conservatives, the average difference is also about 3.

    In calculating averages, I left out the topics of astrology (conservatives score better) and plate tectonics (liberals score better), for the reason that many conservatives probably consider astrology to be one of these lefty weird new-age superstitions, and many liberals are probably more “open minded” about it; conversely, plate tectonics has a second-order rejection from conservatives who are fundamentally religious, as plate tectonics supports the age of the earth being 4.6 billion years, and directly contradicting young earth creationism. So there are a fraction of conservatives who will reject plate tectonics on those grounds (ha ha).

    I disagree with your conclusion, and I think you’re allowing your bias (since you have self-identified as a conservative) to influence your interpretation of this data.

  • http://rxnm.wordpress.com miko

    JMW, I didn’t go through the tables, but Razib is notoriously unbiased when it comes to quantitative data. As someone mentioned, some of those does/doesn’t categories appear to be mislabeled.

    Also, he is not even conservative; he just thinks he is because he lives on the west coast.

  • http://occludedsun.wordpress.com Caledonian

    I find it hilariously tragic that ‘scientific fluency’ has 1) such low standards for inclusion and 2) relatively few people who meet those standards.

  • Pablo

    JMW, Republicans are not the same as conservatives. In fact, Republicans could be identified as liberal or moderate as well – as many do where I’m from in the Northeast/New England. That only complicates the interpretation of data. The whole point of this data set is to distinguish between liberal/conservative vs. democrat/republican. The democrat/republican data set is that already posted by audacious.

    In my personal opinion, I’ve observed that moderate/liberal republicans tend to be the most scientific and objective when it comes to most issues. Conservative/moderate Democrats are also somewhat objective, but tend to be opposed to scientific issues more so – namely nuclear power, drilling for oil and natural gas, and creating incentives to further promote these activities. “Protecting” the environment (to an irrational extent) seems to trump scientific advances by those on the left. Whereas, those on the right support nuclear, drilling/exploration/development of oil and gas, funding to develop cleaner energy solutions – and, of course, support doing all of this safely to protect the water supply and surrounding environment (but the left won’t portray it that way – those Republicans just want to destroy the environment and support big oil…).

    If it was up to those on the left, they would want all of us to live in a “green energy” fantasy world without fossil fuels – which science has repeatedly acknowledged cannot sustain our (and the world’s) energy needs and is also inefficient, both economically and physically, relative to fossil fuels. However, fossil fuels will eventually run dry – but that won’t be an issue for at least the next 100+ years, so there’s no need to worry and no reason not to take advantage of our resources and improving them with science to prolong our supply and maybe even find more or better ways to extract it. Of course, this is all assuming the AGW theory remains weak at best and fails to establish a definitive link between CO2 and the imminent self-destruction of our planet.

    The further left/right you go, the more polarized and less objective the views become – that’s liberal democrats and conservative republicans. Unfortunately, our current political landscape is dominated by strong partisanship of these 2 groups, rather than rationality – very few moderates exist on either side of the spectrum in Congress today. It’s a somewhat herd mentality. In the end, it all comes down to how you feel about something in weighing the pros/cons. Even with stats on the side supporting the safety of scientific advances and energy use and exploration of fossil fuels/nuclear, those on the left will continue to oppose them because of an irrational fear of destroying the environment.

  • Chris

    “many liberals are probably more “open minded” about [astrology]”

    =mistaken idea. Being open minded in the face of overwhelming evidence does not seem particularly virtuous.

    The only thing I wonder about is whether moderates’ knowledge of these issues actually represents capability or interest. I know you usually, if only tacitly, take an ignorance=stupidity position.

    Are you awaiting a tsunami of Ann Coulter/hormesis links, or were these choices only accidental?

  • Pablo

    Sorry, couldn’t fit this last bit in on time:

    Likewise, those on the right that are very (ignorantly) religious will continue to oppose evolution. All comes down to emotions over logical rationality – we all make emotional decisions to some degree everyday, only some of us are better at sorting out the emotions from the facts and acknowledging that just about everything we do is a risk/benefit analysis.

  • toto

    Confirming Razib’s hunch, I find no significant difference between Libs and Cons, but a strong significant difference between either Libs or Cons and Mods (assuming I did things right).

    t-test (might over-emphasize outliers?)
    Libs vs Cons: p = 0.4463
    Cons vs Mods: p = 0.0373
    Libs vs Mods: p < 0.001

    sign test (more robust):
    Libs vs Cons: p = 1 (no diff)
    Cons vs Mods: p = 0.0042
    Libs vs Mods: p=0.0074

  • Divalent

    If you look at some of the actual questions, I think Razib has been very generous in his brief description to the point of overstating actual scientific literacy. For example: for “understands Lasers”, the actual question is something like “Lasers work by focusing sound. True or False”. “Understands Antibiotics” tests only whether or not they know that antibiotics are ineffective against viruses. IOW, at least some of these are just a measure of bare minimum awareness, not any sort of actual “understanding”.

  • dan

    hate to say it but i’m not interested until AE does one with only whites.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    I disagree with your conclusion, and I think you’re allowing your bias (since you have self-identified as a conservative) to influence your interpretation of this data.

    what conclusion did i make about conservatives vs. liberals? you just read that into my post when i specifically said nothing about conserv. vs. liberal in the generality. seriously, quote what my conclusion was.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    antibiotics was mislabeled. moderates are dumber as expected. fwiw, moderates have lower vocab. scores. also, they know a lot less about political issues.

  • peter

    I’d like to see results of this test for all the members of congress, to see variations between them and the general public.

  • delurking

    JMW, the paragraph right above the table says:
    “The percentages given are the correct science answer, or the more pro-science answer.”

    This should modify those conclusions where you applied the following:
    “here I’m assuming that a LOWER score is better on the topics that begin “doesn’t understand””.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    IOW, at least some of these are just a measure of bare minimum awareness, not any sort of actual “understanding”.

    agreed. in fact, some of the questions arguably explore intelligently wrong vs. stupidly right (i.e., the people who give the “wrong” answers cuz they’re stupid may be giving technically correct answers if you drill down to a high level of scientific fluency; look at the electron/atom question for example).

  • Owen

    Wait, electrons are a “subset” of atoms? Call me a moderate, but don’t you mean component? Maybe protons, if you allow a charge.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #20, see #19. basically in “public understanding of science” surveys you can’t ever have questions which explore perfectly fine-grained understanding of science, because all the numbers would go well below 10%, making it useless. so yeah, some of these questions are technically clearly wrong in terms of what the “right answer” is.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    apologize for a few typos which really confused the frequency table above. everyone please double check. also, it would be nice if more people ran their own logits.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/tfk Josh Rosenau

    It’s important to draw a distinction here between science literacy and attitudes toward science. Your list of questions conflates those issues, by putting comparable weight on, say, “Astrology not scientific” and “Benefits of science outweigh harm” or “Don’t care if food as been genetically modified.” The former tests what people know about science, and the latter tests whether people accept scientific results. There’s a correlation between the two, but it isn’t the same thing.

    Also, you probably want interaction terms between party/ideology and predictors like education, race, and religion (I tend to find that frequency of church attendance is a more useful measure here than just “belief in god”).

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Also, you probably want interaction terms between party/ideology and predictors like education, race, and religion (I tend to find that frequency of church attendance is a more useful measure here than just “belief in god”).

    well, i never made strong causal claims about party/ideology -> science literacy/acceptance. i’ve checked before, and it’s pretty obvious that the differences of party/ideology emerge because of the demographic correlates of those affiliations.

  • Brock

    I would quibble that “Don’t care if food as been genetically modified” is the “scientific” position on this issue. Where are the control group animal studies showing these aren’t harmless? I understand the economic benefits, and that maybe in parts of Africa it’s “GMO or starve”, but I still care whether MY food has been modified.

    My tissues, metabolism, digestive system and enzymes have co-evolved for millions of years with food being a certain way. Just changing the food half of that relationship willy-nilly isn’t guaranteed to “not matter.”

  • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

    Razib! Stop ruining my preconceived stereotypes of the world with data!

    Ok. Joking aside, this post leaves me feeling very confused about the accuracy of my models of American politics. There’s a clear trend with Republican politicians saying anti-science remarks which is very hard to reconcile with this. Possible explanations: 1) They don’t realize that their constituents aren’t as ignorant and anti-science as they think 2) The comments are directly aimed at the base which does have anti-science attitudes even as the rest does not (I’d be curious to see the breakdown if one split off political viewpoint more (doesn’t the GSS have options of very conservative and very liberal for the basic politics question?) 3) The liberals are getting dragged down by the less-educated, low-income segment that isn’t politically influential (and so it doesn’t get any similar pandering by the Democratic politicians?) (This fits with your observation about multimodal distributions.)

    Some of the ideological questions might have more complicated connotations that may be coming into play. I wonder for example how many self-identified liberals have thoughts primed about the “military-industrial complex” or other notions when they get asked the question about the benefits of science outweighing the harms.

    (Incidentally, I had not noticed before that the GSS had a question about controlled experiments. The good showing across the board for that question makes me very happy.)

  • Nullius in Verba

    #23,

    There are (at least) three levels: do they understand it, do they believe it, and do they advocate for or act on it.

    You can understand something and believe it is true, but still oppose it (for moral, economic, or political reasons). You can believe without understanding (because scientists said so), and you can understand without believing it (because you understand the orthodox explanation but think it is wrong). Humans are even more complicated, because they can believe something in one context while disbelieving it in another.

    Regarding the race connection noted above, is it possible that non-Hispanic whites are more pro-science because non-Hispanic whites are proportionately more Republican? Seems to me that it would be equally justifiable on the basis of the argument given.
    Personally, I suspect that race has little to do with it either, but is itself confounded by socio-economic status in some way. (Obviously, a couple of skin colour genes are unlikely to form a genetic basis for political outlook.) But I haven’t looked into the question myself – that’s just a guess.

  • SORAL

    Conservatives… can’t even add up results correctly.

    To say they understand science better compared to liberals or moderates is a LIE

    Then, you can continue on to say most people who call themselves “conservative” don’t even know that they are the farthest thing from conservative.

    I’ll leave it at that.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #25,

    Those are good questions.

    The most honest answer is that GEOs (genetically engineered organisms) are not guaranteed to be safe, but neither are non-GEOs. There is a potential risk with any food. Wild plants have evolved ways to prevent herbivores eating them – the plants that do this best survive to breed – and poisoning predators is an effective method. 99.9% of all the pesticides you eat are entirely natural, produced by the plant itself, and are continually evolving still. (You know how fast pests evolve pesticide resistance…)

    And virtually all the food products you eat today are “genetically modified”, by selective breeding compared to their wild ancestors – which is itself not an absolutely safe process. Selective breeding consists of throwing genes together at random and seeing what happens, picking out those that look better. (Did you know that carrots are not naturally orange? There’s an interesting story behind that…) With genetic engineering, you do at least have some idea of what it does and how it works.

    There have been a few cases of plant breeders selecting food crops for disease resistance, without at first realising that the plant achieved this by loading its flesh with toxins. The problem was quickly recognised and the plants withdrawn, but only because it was so extreme. (Celery pickers got chemical burns on their hands from picking them.) If there are long-term, cumulative effects of some of these natural pesticides, nobody would necessarily notice. (Although in a few cases, such effects are known.) This requires testing, and as a rule, genetically engineered plants are the most thoroughly safety-tested foods you can get. They are much safer than selectively bred plants, which in turn are much safer than wild, “natural” species.

    If producers of natural vegetables had to list the natural chemical ingredients on the label, like they do for the artificially added ones, people might have a better understanding.

  • JPRC

    Regarding the ‘moderates are dumber’ conclusion – is it possible that people who self-identify as moderates may also self-identify as more skeptical than those who self-identify as hardline democrats/republicans? If so, I can imagine that someone who practices a strict skeptical epistemology would answer these questions differently – for example, a skeptic would by nature be skeptical of the claim that “the benefits of science outweigh the harm” (which doesn’t seem to be a very scientific statement, since ‘benefit’ is not a particularly rigorous term, or at least is not used rigorously here). Similarly, ‘accepts heliocentrism’ doesn’t ask if a person understands the scientific arguments for heliocentrism. It asks if they accept the model – a skeptic may be less inclined, ‘by nature’, to ‘accept heliocentrism’ (though of course if they understand the scientific argument for heliocentrism, they ought to – perhaps they are skeptical of of scientific arguments in general?).

    Republicans, in the data above, scored lower on the question pertaining to evolution. That suggests, I think, that Republicans either a) are bad at biology, or b) master only the scientific knowledge that pertain to their ideological interests, and can be used to support those interests. The proponents of Intelligent Design often express skepticism about ‘the theory of evolution,’ and like to emphasize that it is ‘just a theory.’ I doubt that the Republicans who generally know their science well are ‘dumber’ in this one regard – rather, I’d suggest that they are expressing a skepticism that may be particular to their ideological backgrounds.

    I don’t think this suffices as a general explanation of the data, but I do wonder whether there are epistemological factors at play.

  • Eva

    You seem to have some problems with semantic logic. For example, “Everyone will not die when exposed to radiation” is not the same as “It is not true that everyone will die when exposed to radiation.” The former, in fact, asserts that *nobody* will die when exposed to radiation, which is clearly false.

    Similarly, “all man-made chemicals do not cause cancer” is not the same as “not all man-made chemicals cause cancer”.

    The survey seems to have gotten it right, but you didn’t.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    To say they understand science better compared to liberals or moderates is a LIE

    dumbasses can not read. lol. for the morons who don’t bother to read the post, i did not say anything about conservatives understanding science better than liberals or moderates. i did imply moderates don’t understand as well though.

    You seem to have some problems with semantic logic.

    fair enough. i was being colloquial.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    re: moderates, i don’t say they’re dumb based on this post. here are mean 95% confidence intervals of vocab scores by ideology:

    liberals 6.32-6.14
    moderates 5.89-5.76
    conservatives 6.25-6.10

    10 = perfect. conservatives and libs overlap on 95th percent interval. moderates do not. they be dumb :-)

  • Nullius in Verba

    “There’s a clear trend with Republican politicians saying anti-science remarks which is very hard to reconcile with this.”

    “Republicans, in the data above, scored lower on the question pertaining to evolution. That suggests, I think, that Republicans either a) are bad at biology, or b) master only the scientific knowledge that pertain to their ideological interests, and can be used to support those interests.”

    It is clear that Republicans only give such answers on certain specific topics, while showing a good scientific understanding on many others. It seems likely, therefore, that they probably understand the science of evolution or climate change as well as most laymen understand any scientific subject, but that to take the step from understanding up to belief they are using different criteria. They may simply be setting different – and higher – standards of evidence for issues that conflict with prior beliefs and knowledge. In a Bayesian sense, they evaluate the evidence the same way, but start with different priors.

    I have found as many cases of basic misunderstanding of evolution in non-scientist proponents for the theory as in those against. But because the proponents for happen to get the right answer by the wrong method, they count as “more scientific”.

    That’s why I consider it essential when testing scientific literacy to not use a simple list of scientific facts which one either knows or believes, but to check whether they understand. Do they understand scientific principles and methods? Scientific ways of thinking? It is a completely different issue.

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  • JMW

    Ok,here’s an omnibus reply…

    @Mike #7. Agreed. Doesn’t mean he doesn’t succumb to bias occasionally; we’re all human after all.

    @Pablo #9. I was going to ask why you started your comment in reply to mine at #6 by saying, “Republicans are not the same as conservatives.” Rereading my post, I don’t see the word “republican” anywhere – I used conservative throughout. Then I read Razib’s reply at #15, and I carefully re-read his post. I think that if there is confusion, Razib has contributed to it by entitling his post “The Republican Fluency with Science”, then using GSS data about conservatives to illustrate his point. Other than that, I have no issue with anything you’ve said; I tend to be against categorizing all liberals, all moderates or all conservatives as one type of person (e.g., lefty loony new-ager, vs. dumb know-nothing who cares about nothing so they don’t have an opinion about anything, vs. bible-thumping fundamentalist who believes the Flintstones were based on a true story). I don’t like that kind of categorization, and within each group there will be a range of “informedness”, intelligence, etc., etc.

    @Chris #10. Yeah, I thought when I wrote that sentence that I was going to get nailed on that. I call Poe on myself. I had hoped that putting quotes around “open minded” would be clear enough to indicate my sarcasm about being “open minded” about astrology. So let me be clear about my attitude. Astrology does not work. Those who believe so are deluding themselves.

    @Razib #15. Re-reading your post, I’ll agree that your only conclusion is that moderates as a class score poorer on science questions than either liberals or conservatives. I find your choice of title for this post skewed the perception of the post itself. If your post is about conservatives vs. liberals on the scientific fluency scale, than titling it “The Republican Fluency With Science” is unintentionally confusing or misleading at best.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Re-reading your post, I’ll agree that your only conclusion is that moderates as a class score poorer on science questions than either liberals or conservatives. I find your choice of title for this post skewed the perception of the post itself. If your post is about conservatives vs. liberals on the scientific fluency scale, than titling it “The Republican Fluency With Science” is unintentionally confusing or misleading at best.

    1) i assumed you’d misread the title and skimmed too quickly. the title was a ‘cute’ take off on chris mooney’s ‘republican war on science.’

    2) no, the post isn’t just about conservatives or liberals. the biggest conclusion is that these sorts of correlations emerge out of *demographic* correlates. though again, i generally like to throw out data without too much interpretation.

    3) you should still read a post closely enough not to mistakenly impute something which isn’t there if you are going to comment on the post. at least on my blog.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    also, re: bias. everyone has implicit bias. i try and stay away from regressions for that reason…there’s a lot of confirmation bias that can occur unconsciously by pruning the predictors to taste. all the GSS stuff is reported accurately, but there are enough similar questions that you can select the one which supports your position the best (so just sample from the noise). you may not even do this consciously…perhaps you “remember” the variable which you’re most congenial too.

    that’s why i try and be transparent so people can double check.

    nevertheless, i would rather work with quantitative data than verbal stuff, cuz it is least least more transparent and biases are more quickly smoked out.

    also, i think to post on stuff that goes against my normative preferences. e.g., conservatives are stupider than liberals, etc., to consciously compensate for unconscious bias. this of course means that conservatives think i’m a liberal, just as liberals think i’m exhibiting conservative bias when i report something unfavorable to their own self-worth.

  • http://washparkprophet.blogspot.com ohwilleke

    Astrology distrust in conservatives may have roots in religious opposition as opposed to scientific opposition. Evolution/plate techtonics are obvious butting up against religious doctrine.

    Apart from those exceptions, it is remarkable how weak the liberal/conservative distinction is on science. Very little of the variance is explained by nature of political ideology as opposed to having a political ideology. It isn’t clear that the differences are statistically significant.

  • Pablo

    Sorry to add to the confusion JMW. I was under the assumption that you perceived Razib to be biased toward Republicans since your arguments seemed to me to be going the way of 2 party partisan politics – i.e. all democrats are liberals and all republicans are conservatives. I felt the need to clarify that conservative and liberal don’t apply only to the extreme elements of each party, but across party lines. Most people that don’t know much about politics assume you’re either one or the other and try to compartmentalize or generalize a number of stereotypes or views to either side when, in reality, there’s many gray areas. Most people don’t fit exactly into a general political title but can be described, at least to some degree, more accurately as liberal/moderate/conservative within their respective parties.

  • Kathleen Roby

    I appreciate the information.!Pablo, thank you for adding much needed important points concerning assumptions about political parties, etc.!!

  • Pingback: Discovery Magazine: Republicans are more fluent with science | News-Worthy Information

  • Pingback: Vínculos marginales XI « Notas marginales

  • Pingback: Republicans are more scientifically literate | Tea Party News .NET

  • Ray Hammond

    Liberals often assume conservatives are dumb about science because of the global warming issue. What’s interesting is that a lot of the Republican leaders have said global warming is a real problem. Gingrich, Giuliani, and McCain have all said it’s an issue we need to address, and Pawlenty just said “we should proceed as if it’s happening.” Even Palin has said she thinks the earth is warming, although she questions the cause. It is true, however, that many rank-and-file conservatives discount the possibility of global warming.

    On the other hand, many liberals have denounced scientific findings on such issues as gender differences, the law of supply and demand, and the fact that AIDS was never a threat to spread to the heterosexual population. When science leads to uncomfortable policy implications, it’s natural for people to lash out at the science. It unfortunately happens on both sides.

  • Pingback: browsing catharsis – 03.30.11 « Increasing Marginal Utility

  • Fnord

    Note that there are at least two kinds of ignorance, which have very different consequences.

    When Timmy comes home from school and says “today in biology class we learned (that the father determines the sex of the child/that humans evolved from other animals)”, do his parents:
    1) Say “that’s interesting, son, I didn’t know that”? Or,
    2) Say “that’s a lie, son” and call the principle to complain?

    I suspect that one of the possible hypotheticals leans more towards option 2 than the other.

    Now, I suspect that liberals have some of the second kind of ignorance, too, particularly in the issues relating to chemicals and radiation. But it would be dishonest to ignore the difference.

  • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

    Also, can’t get trackback to work for some reason so just noting that I’ve blogged in response http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/2011/04/political-affiliation-and-scientific.html

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

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 http://www.razib.com

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