Matthew Walden and Celeste Beesley, Department of Political Science
This study seeks to extend a 2015 study by Blank and Shaw, which seeks to understand what factors shape American attitude towards scientific deference in policymaking. My study ran the same experiment among an international sample, making a cross-cultural comparison of the correlation between political and religious beliefs and preferences for science in the political sphere. Specifically, I focused in on the relationship between nationality and scientific deference. The purpose of this specific investigation is to see if Americans display a unique level of anti-science sentiment compared with the rest of the world.
In the United States, it is a popular notion to believe that the Republican party has held an “anti-science” stance in many policy areas. However, in a 2015 study by Daron Shaw and Joshua Blank, an experiment was performed which asked participants 1) to describe the extent at which they believe science should be consulted for various political issues, and 2) to describe their religiosity, partisanship, ideology, and demographic. Their study concludes that “republican identification does not appear to explain anti-science sentiment” (28), and that other factors, namely religiosity and ideology provide a more consistent prediction for scientific deference (28-29). However, the authors are unable to “explain the causal pathway by which certain individuals reject scientific advice for specific public policy prescriptions” (32). In order to combat this, a 2015 analysis of Shaw and Blank’s data by Elizabeth Suhay and James Druckman calls for more research to be performed regarding the comparing the effect of various national scientific and political cultures on scientific deference (15).
My principal hypothesis is that British residents will be observably more adept to scientific deference, and that the rejection of scientific advice in policy making is a notion that finds more support in the United States than in other countries around the world. I believe that this this is due to a very public history of alleged scientific manipulation on behalf of the United States, and a culture of public skepticism on behalf of the American people. A plausible indicator of scientific abuse in any government is public mistrust of scientific advice in political matters, as mistrust is often constructed upon an established pattern of abuse that has been observed by the public.
Project Profile Body
As a part of a 2015 study by Daron Shaw and Joshua Blank, an experiment was performed among 2000 American voters which asked participants 1) to describe the extent at which they believe science should be consulted for various political issues, and 2) to describe their religiosity, partisanship, and ideology. For the first part of the survey, participants were told: “Some people think that our elected officials and policy-makers should follow the advice of scientists on many issues. Others think that scientists are often either biased or wrong on many issues.” Then, they were asked to rank, on a scale of 1 to 10, how much politicians should trust scientific data on specific issues. According to the authors, specific issues were chosen so as “to have some issues on which scientific recommendations are clear and some on which they are unclear, some issues on which science is obviously relevant and some on which it is not so obviously relevant, and some issues on which scientific policy recommendations please the Right and some on which they please the Left.” For the second part of the study, participants were asked ideological orientation on a 1-5, left to right scale, party identification, age, education, occupation, race/ethnicity, church attendance, and whether or not they believe the Bible is the literal word of God. The authors described these questions as “explanatory variables with which we hope to model deference toward scientific research.”
This study sought to extend the Blank and Shaw study by using a sample of International participants to participate in the same experiment. 800 participants from the United Kingdom were recruited through the program Mechanical Turk to participate in this questionnaire. Specifically, I observed the relationship between nationality and scientific deference. In my experiment, the independent variable was nationality, and the dependent variable was scientific deference. This variation of Blank and Shaw’s study is called for specifically by Suhay and Druckman in a 2015 article.
As anticipated, results have come in at a particularly slow pace. Due to the recruitment method and the desired sample restrictions, we have still not yet achieved our goal of 800 respondents. We currently have 690 respondents, and are well on our way of achieving our goal in the near future. Because of this, a full analysis of our findings will have to be completed at a future date. Preliminary findings have supported our principal hypothesis, however significant work still remains to be done before reaching a conclusion. While British survey participants appear to be more trusting of science, this deference varies from issue-to-issue and appears to also be influenced by the quality of our sample, which tended to be more liberal, younger, and more educated than Blank and Shaw’s American sample, likely due to the difference in survey distribution. We anxiously await the remaining results of our questionnaire and the exciting inferences that we can draw from it.
Blank, Joshua M. and Daron Shaw. 2015. “Does Partisanship Shape Attitudes toward Science and Public
Policy? The Case for Ideology and Religion.” . The Annals of the American Academy of Political and
Social Science 658, no. 1: 18-35.
Cappato, Marco, John Coggon, and Simona Giordano. 2012 . Scientific Freedom : An Anthology on
Freedom of Scientific Research. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
Gough, Michael. 2003 . Politicizing Science : The Alchemy of Policymaking. Stanford, Calif: Hoover Press.
Newton, David E. 2014 . Science and political controversy. ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara, Calif.
Suhay, Elizabeth and James N. Druckman. 2015. “The Politics of Science: Political Values and the
Production, Communication, and Reception of Scientific Knowledge.” . The Annals of the American
Academy of Political and Social Science 658, no. 1: 6-15.