More conservatives than ever distrust science, according to a report released Thursday.
Just 35 percent of conservatives said they had a "great deal of trust in science" in 2010, a 28 percent decline since 1974, when 48 percent of conservatives—about the same percentage as liberals—trusted science. Liberal and moderate support for science has remained essentially flat since 1974, according to Gordon Gauchat, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He published his findings in the journal American Sociological Review.
[…] Gauchat says conservatives' rebellion against the "elite" and the shifting role of science in society is to blame for the decline. He argues that the conservative minority has rebelled against science in the same way it has against media and higher education.
"It kind of began with the loss of Barry Goldwater and the construction of Fox News and all these [conservative] think tanks. The perception among conservatives is that they're at a disadvantage, a minority," he says. "It's not surprising that the conservative subculture would challenge what's viewed as the dominant knowledge production groups in society—science and the media."
He says science has also changed—in the middle of the 20th century, science was tasked with creating things for the Department of Defense and NASA, things that "easily built a consensus."
"Since then, science has become autonomous from the government—it develops knowledge that helps regulate policy, and in the case of the EPA, it develops policy," he says. "Science is charged with what religion used to be charged with—answering questions about who we are and what we came from, what the world is about. We're using it in American society to weigh in on political debates, and people are coming down on a specific side."
Actually, I believe there is research from elite bi-coastal university(s) that show that conservative resistance to science started earlier. One can go back to the Scopes Trial and to the reactions to progressive era reforms of the early 1900s, especially to those measures that arose from the economic mobilization that occurred during WW1. This period is as good as any to trace the origins of today's movement conservatives and their anti-science grudges.
Putting it a little more politely, I believe that opposition to science stems from a populist reaction to the fact that it takes over educated eggheads using hard to understand skills sets to run the Country post 19th century.
How does the healthcare system work, how does Wallstreet work, what’s the deal with global warming, how do you organize the economy if the Country has to fight and win a global war, etc., – the average fella’ will have a hard time answering these questions without generalities. It takes dedicated people (experts) with years of study a particular discipline to answer these questions. Yet it is ordinary folks that go to the polls to, in theory, decide policy matters that affect science, finance, healthcare, etc. How does one make an informed decision on wallstreet reform if you haven’t studied finance for a decade or three? You can’t. You have to rely on experts whether it’s the pointy headed bureaucrats at the EPA setting air standards or the former Harvard Professor overseeing the creation of the President’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The average fella’ doesn't have a direct say in these matters anymore – the details. It’s the eggheads largely calling these shots instead of the people at the polls. So it is the Eggheads and their stupid science that get the blame from the mob.
You see patterns – right wing populism against Science – start to emerge in the 1920s most notably in opposition to the teaching of Evolution and the Scopes trial. Back in that day, one could look at the industrial slaughter of WW1, the encroachment of modernity and the rapid changes to society in terms of bureaucratization of government (the rock stars of the WW1 period were not necessarily the generals but rather the heads of bureaucracy in DC running the war economy).
Couple these changes with science based (albeit real shitty science by today's standards) curriculum that suggests that Man was not created by god but rather may have evolved over time and the world starts spinning out of control. No longer is democracy in America a gift from God in which every man could participate in equally using his God given talents. With modernity everyman cannot participate equally in government. With modernity, God may not have even created man. With modernity, nations can commit industrialized slaughter on a scale not previously seen. And thus a reaction to science and modernity occurs. Science means change and change to a future that ain't as promising as the past.
Militant belief creationism was not the cause of the Scopes Trial but rather the effect. Darwin published his tracks 60 years prior to the Scopes Trial and religion and science operated in consonant. But add the reaction from the rapid changes in the early 20th Century, along with a fear of immigrants, African Americans starting to exercise their rights as Americans, foreign religion and boom. It is a tea party - scopes style. This marks the beginning of movement conservatism in America in my humble opinion as a practicing wingnutologist.