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A perceived rise in ideologically-motivated scientific denialism within the Republican Party has led some scholars and pundits to argue that conservatives have become inherently anti-science and are in general more likely than liberals to engage in motivated reasoning when presented debiasing scientific evidence. Sociological research employing the General Social Survey has shown that institutional confidence in science among conservatives has significantly dropped since the 1980s while confidence among liberals has remained largely unchanged. Other scholars however, argue that these two trends are contextual and based on the science issues at question and the degree of politicization, rather than a trait specific to conservative ideology, and argue that liberals are equally likely to express lower confidence in science and to dismiss scientific evidence contradicting their ideological predispositions, especially when paired with political cues.
Presenting a series of national online experiments, this study aims to explicate this debate by examining the cognitive and affective processes through which conservatives and liberals respond to corrective statements about false beliefs, either paired or unpaired with political cues, on politically controversial scientific issues (i.e., climate change, evolution, nuclear power, and hydraulic fracking of natural gas) compared to non-controversial scientific issues (i.e. astronomy and geological science) and the consequences of these processes for institutional confidence and affective polarization toward the scientific community.
Erik Nisbet, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Communication at The Ohio State University where he studies political communication as it applies to public diplomacy, international conflict, and debates over science and environmental issues.