The effects of science denial can cost society millions
Denial is a river that runs both red and blue, new research suggests.
People on both ends of the political spectrum are similarly prone to science denial, according to a study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science — despite a widespread belief that conservatives, especially those who deny climate science, are the biggest offenders.
Study participants were asked to read studies either consistent or inconsistent with their own attitudes; they then interpreted results and decided what the study had concluded. Upon learning the correct interpretation, they were asked to rate how strongly they agreed with it, trusted it and found it knowledgeable. But both liberals and conservatives were likely to interpret the info in ways consistent with their own attitudes — and, for most issues, deny the results’ scientific credibility when correct interpretations were at odds with their attitudes.
The University of Illinois at Chicago researchers found the effects held steady regardless of issues at hand, which included hot-button topics like climate change, health care reform, nuclear energy, immigration reform, gun control and regulation on same-sex marriage.
“Not only were both sides equally likely to seek out attitude confirming scientific conclusions, both were also willing to work harder and longer when doing so got them to a conclusion that fit with their existing attitudes,” lead author Anthony Washburn, a UIC grad student, said in a statement. When a correct interpretation didn’t jibe with respondents’ attitudes, “they were more likely to view the researchers involved with the study as less trustworthy, less knowledgeable, and disagreed with their conclusions more.”
Science denial might ultimately have little to do with ideological bent, the authors suggested. Relying on political orientation as an indicator “might ignore other, perhaps more basic, motivations like attitude consistency that could be driving these motivated reasoning effects,” they wrote.
Political leanings aside, the costs of the effects of science denial are vast: Sixteen outbreaks of measles in 2011 — easily preventable with vaccination — cost U.S. public health institutions between $2.7 and $5.3 million, a CDC study found. And climate change, if left unchecked through the end of this century, could lose the poorest one-third of U.S. counties up to 20% of their incomes, a recent study from UC Berkeley found. Every one-degree Fahrenheit jump in global temperatures, the authors add, could yield a 0.7% loss in U.S. GDP.
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