Distrust in science has become an ever-growing theme across the globe, not least in the US where the public perception of some scientific topics – notably COVID-19 and climate change – has become dominated by partisanship, politicization, and conspiracy theories. According to a new study, support for former President Donald Trump is a major variable that can predict whether a person will reject the scientific consensus on these subjects.
In other words, buying into populist Conservative ideology and “Trumpism” increases the chances of a person not believing the accepted science of COVID-19 and climate change.
These two subjects were the most outstanding sticking points, but Trumpism was also associated with people believing in a whole load of wildly anti-scientific ideas, albeit to a less significant extent.
“Trump approval correlates with other conspiracy or science-rejecting views. Trumpists indicate higher agreement not only with flat Earth and Moon landing conspiracies, but also that vaccinations implant tracking microchips, and COVID-19 dangers have been exaggerated by scientists,” the study reads.
“At the same time, they express lower agreement with scientific conclusions that the Earth is billions of years old, humans evolved from earlier forms of life, human activities are changing the climate, or vaccines are mostly beneficial,” it adds.
Some other interesting insights from the new study include:
- Women are more likely than men to reject COVID-19 vaccines, but climate change denial was equally common among both men and women.
- Science rejection is less common among people with higher levels of education.
- Vaccine rejection is more common in low-income households, although income has no impact on climate-change views.
- The probability of climate change denial increases with age, while the probability of vaccine rejection decreases as people get older.
- Around 10 percent of the total people surveyed thought the Earth is flat, while a further 9 percent were unsure whether the Earth is flat.
The new study was carried out by Professor Lawrence Hamilton, a sociologist at the University of New Hampshire, whose work uses statistical analysis to understand public perceptions of the environment, energy sources, and climate change.
To reach these findings, he analyzed data from an online survey called POLES 2021, answered by 1,134 US adults in the summer and early fall of 2021. The survey contains a variety of questions that asked about the respondents’ sociopolitical identity and background, as well as their views on things like the world’s climate and COVID-19.
The study notes that conservative political identity has long been associated with lower concern about environmental problems and traditionally rejects strong state interventions, such as lockdowns, vaccine mandates, etc. However, these themes have become supercharged over the past decade through populist politics, which has exploited a growing distrust of “the establishment” (whatever one perceives that to be).
“In the case of climate change and COVID, preexisting biases against scientists were reinforced by messaging from economic and political elites serving interests such as fossil fuel use or Trump’s re-election,” the study adds.
The study did not offer any ideas on how to regain the public’s trust in science, nor how this anti-science trend might develop in the years ahead.
Trump was voted out of the White House in 2020, but he remains a dominant force in US politics and his 2024 presidential campaign is gaining substantial traction. Whatever the future may hold, it seems like the rise of anti-science is far from over.
“Although Trump’s personal future is uncertain, his deep effects on US society are unlikely to go away soon; under some scenarios they could intensify. Even if support for Trump himself narrows, for example, elements of conspiracism and science rejection might become more pronounced among his core believers, or attach to new grievances and leaders,” the study concludes.
The new study is published in the journal PLOS One.