In the current clime of political upheaval and unrest, can an interest in science help unite people across the political divide? Probably not, according to a new study that has shown when it comes to science, liberals and conservatives don’t have a lot in common. In fact, there's only one thing they both tend to agree on: Dinosaurs are awesome.
Despite the fact that science, being based on facts and systematic study, should be bipartisan doesn’t mean it is. We should all be able to agree that the Earth is not flat, climate change does exist, and man has indeed landed on the Moon. However, strangely, in 2017 all of these are up for “debate”.
Scientists from Cornell University, Yale, and the University of Chicago looked into the scientific reading and book-buying habits of liberals and conservatives, and they discovered that, though both sides showed a broad interest in science, there was very little overlap in their fields of interest.
“It turns out that liberals and conservatives can agree about dinosaurs, but not much else,” said Cornell’s Michael Macy, one of the authors of the study, in a statement.
The authors suggest in their paper, published in Nature Human Behaviour, that disagreements about scientific theories and endeavors have become the new “battlefield for culture wars”. They wanted to know whether a shared interest in science could bridge political differences or whether selective interests reinforced the existing divide.
To do this, they studied millions of online book-purchasing data as well as 25 million co-purchases (the ‘people who bought this also bought this’ info) from Amazon and Barnes and Nobles. They found a correlation between a person's political persuasion and the scientific subjects of the books they bought.
For example, those who bought liberal political literature were more likely to prefer reading diverse basic science books driven by curiosity such as physics, zoology, and anthropology. Conservative-leaning book purchasers, on the other hand, were more likely to buy books on the applied sciences like criminology, law, and geophysics.
The researchers found that the book-purchasing habits of both sides were “notably divided”. They tended to not only not read the same topics, but when they occasionally did overlap, they didn't read the same books, either. In one example on the topic of biology and evolution, the authors found liberals more often bought books like Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth, while The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design by Jonathan Wells proved more popular among conservatives.
The study concluded that people who bought both political and science books were probably less interested in science in general and more intrigued by a political interest that the science addresses. “You could say that liberals were a bit more interested in science for its own sake," Macy told the Guardian. "Conservatives seem somewhat more interested in science where there is a conservative political alignment."
“If people were more interested in science for science’s sake it might be more of a bridge,” he added in the statement.
There was one notable exception, however. “In paleontology, liberals and conservatives are reading the same dinosaur books on the same dinosaur topics,” Macy said. In fact, Macy noted the more a scientific topic got away from anything politically relevant, the more likely both sides expressed the same interest.
So, if we all want to get along, see you all soon for a bipartisan mass screening of Jurassic Park?