Sunday, September 23, 2012

On the Motivated Rejection of Science

(A minor detour from the Electric Sun to promote some recent studies of science denial)

A recent paper appeared in print related to the topics of this blog dealing with the sociology of pseudo-scientific belief.

While the primary interest of the paper dealt with the acceptance of climate science, it touched on a number of other aspects of science denial.  The primary conclusion of the paper is that there appears to be a strong correlation between various aspects of science denial.  To quote the authors from the abstract:
"we find that endorsement of a laissez-faire conception of free-market economics predicts rejection of climate science (r ≃ .80 between latent constructs)"
Because the study dealt with climate science, which has significant economic implications, it is not too surprising that there was a strong correlation with economic issues generally identified as 'conservative'.  It might be interesting to conduct a similar study exploring various New Age and similar claims promoted by groups that are more politically 'left-wing'. 

Here's some links to the preprint and news coverage:
and the 'controversy' which erupted after the preprint appeared online:


Not Too Surprising from My Experience

I found this paper particularly interesting as it seems to tie together a number of aspects of science denial and pseudo-science that I had long suspected from personal experience, but this is the first detailed study I've seen of the correlation. 

I have often encountered many promoters of pseudo-science who seem to view their science claims as something they have to 'sell', as if science is chosen like something from a restaurant menu with the difference between the choices merely a matter of personal taste.  I've even sat in on a talk where an individual who was no longer doing research attributed his failure to an inability to 'sell' his ideas rather than the fact that many of his ideas (which I had read about) could be demonstrated as incorrect by existing science.  This emphasis on selling and persuasion is a very important ability in business.

Also consistent with the report is that I've also noticed a high fraction of promoters of pseudo-science advocating various other conspiracies.  There are always the claims that 'politics' in science act to suppress alternative ideas, but these types of conspiracies can't last for long before real evidence vindicates legitimate science.  I have occasionally challenged some of the cranks on this blog who promote claims that would negatively impact the capability for space travel (Electric Sun claims and Biblical Geocentrism) to see if they also believe claims such as we've also never been to the Moon (see Moon Landing Hoax rebuttals at 'Exposing PseudoAstronomy').  I often find the cranks will go off on a totally different tangent from the original argument and conspicuously avoid, or evade, answering this direct question.

Seeking Solutions

The saddest aspect of this reported correlation between climate change denial and capitalism is that it makes it far more difficult to find real solutions to the climate problem which are more consistent with the principles of promoting free markets.  Like most businesses, climate change is an inventory and resource management issue, and the most successful business are those that not only produce good products, but manage their input materials and inventory well for the long term.  How can this not be an issue important to conservatives?

Fortunately, the correlation is not 100% (r=1).  There are some conservatives who not only don't deny the science, but also promote dealing with the climate problem along more market-friendly lines:

    •    Kerry Emanuel - Conservative for Climate Science
    •    Republicans Tired Of Climate Change Deniers Launch Initiative For Global Warming Action, Carbon Price
    •    How to be a climate conservative
    •    Republican meteorologist Paul Douglas: conservatives should embrace climate science

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