Sceptical about science? Find out why

written by Meena Azzollini

woman looking sceptically

Credit:123RF

Throughout history, some people are more sceptical about science than others.

Their acceptance of a scientific explanation depends on the topic under discussion and other factors that have an influence on their worldview like when Darwin introduced the theory of evolution, both science and religion clashed on that topic.

And scepticism continues in the modern day – some people are sceptical about climate change while others are sceptical about vaccinations.

But what factors contribute to their scepticism and their unwillingness to support science?

Extensive research has been conducted in political ideology as a factor for climate change scepticism as an example but there has been no study which investigates different forms of scepticism and several predictors which may contribute to these forms of scepticism.

Psychologists from the University of Virginia focus on scepticism about climate change, genetically modified foods and vaccination in a study which also looks at the general level of trust in science in North Americans.

For this, the scientists conducted several studies in which they asked groups of online participants to grade different statements after presenting them with various items and surveys on science.

They were asked to respond to four science rejection items – two of which reflected medical facts-: “The HIV virus causes AIDS” and “Smoking causes lung cancer.” The other two items were more contentious – “Human CO2 emissions cause climate change” and “Vaccinations cause autism.”

Scepticism about vaccinations consistently correlates to religious beliefs – higher levels of religiosity coinciding with greater distrust in vaccinations.

Participants also completed a scientific literacy test and indicated their gender, age, nationality, occupation, religious identity, religious affiliation, belief in God and their political conservatism.

They were also asked to do a short task in which they would indicate how much priority the government should give science particularly the amount of money that should be allocated to science.

The researchers found that scepticism associated with climate change is related to political beliefs, particularly social conservatism. Scepticism about vaccinations consistently correlates to religious beliefs – higher levels of religiosity coinciding with greater distrust in vaccinations.

However, the best predictors of scepticism in genetically modified food are the level of trust in and knowledge of science.

The scientist also found that the importance given to science depends on mainly on religiosity and much less on political beliefs or knowledge of science.

Religious conservatives were found to be least supportive of science and of allocating money to science.

The psychologists explain that scepticism cannot be reduced by simply increasing the level of literacy in science. Some people have a problem with science due to their ideological, religious and moral worldview.

The only way to change this is to present scientific findings in a different way as shown by a previous study in which it was seen that conservatives were more open to climate change if the data was compared to the past rather than future scenarios.

While this research was conducted on a North American population, the researchers plan to study other nationalities to understand global patterns of scepticism about science.

So what are you sceptical about?

Source: Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin


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Meena Azzollini

Meena is passionate about holistic wellbeing, alternative healing, health and personal power and uses words to craft engaging feature articles to convey her knowledge and passion. She is a freelance writer and content creator from Adelaide, Australia, who draws inspiration from family, travel and her love for books and reading.

A yoga practitioner and a strong believer in positive thinking, Meena is also a mum to a very active young boy. In her spare time, she loves to read and whip up delicious meals. She also loves the smell of freshly made coffee and can’t ever resist a cheesecake. And she gets tickled pink by anything funny!