Are Americans anti science

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  • #1
wolram
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http://www.livescience.com/57590-why-americans-deny-science.html

The U.S. has a science problem. Around half of the country's citizens reject the facts of evolution; fewer than a third agree there is a scientific consensus on human-caused climate change, and the number who accept the importance of vaccines is ticking downward.

I suppose the majority of countries has their disbelievers, But how much of our science is believed to be opinion based ?
 
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  • #2
StatGuy2000
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There are at least several factors leading to the widespread anti-science attitude within American society. Among these include the following:

(1) The way science is taught within elementary and secondary school system.

(2) The general tendency (observed by psychologists) of picking and choosing to believe facts that confirm an individual's pre-existing social, religious, and ideological beliefs, and

(3) The activities of various different groups who seek to exploit this tendency found among individuals as identified in (2) above.

Take for example evolution; there is a significant proportion of the American population who are deeply religious followers of various fundamentalist Protestant Christian sects who belief in the literal word of the Bible and therefore reject evolution by natural selection. Many of these Protestant Christian groups are well-funded and have considerable political influence at both the local, state and even federal level, and have helped to fund organizations like the Discovery Institute whose primary mission is to spread the pseudoscientific belief in creationism across the country, including influencing curriculum of the elementary and secondary school curriculums.
 
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  • #3
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I sometimes use the phrase "anti-science" but it might be too broad. As @StatGuy2000 pointed out, people tend to pick and choose facts that confirm their beliefs. In their own minds, they are not rejecting science, but only the parts of it that make them uncomfortable. A lot of very conservative people will deny evolution, but they will get very excited about the space program - IF they see it has some sort of benefit, particularly military. Liberals will accept evolution and climate change, but then grip about "Western Medicine" and claim that GMOs will kill you.

We would say they are rejecting science, because they do not arrive at their conclusions through scientific inquiry, but through preconceived biases.

-Dave K
 
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111mediamatters+for+america.jpg
 
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My most favorite statement I've read about this issue has been: "The British sent .... . Australia had the better deal."

Now seriously, I just found out recently that almost 16% of our population has minor to severe difficulties to read and write including about 2.5% percent who are illiterates. I guess we tend to underestimate those figures, as we usually don't meet this part of the civilization and FB isn't representative.
 
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My most favorite statement I've read about this issue has been: "The British sent .... . Australia had the better deal."

Now seriously, I just found out recently that almost 16% of our population has minor to severe difficulties to read and write including about 2.5% percent who are illiterates. I guess we tend to underestimate those figures, as we usually don't meet this part of the civilization and FB isn't representative.
On this list Germany is 13th while United States and Italy are tied at 28th place.

Among the countries I keep threatening to flee to, Germany is #1.

-Dave K
 
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  • #7
Andy Resnick
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I suppose the majority of countries has their disbelievers, But how much of our science is believed to be opinion based ?
From my perspective, the anti-science behavior is not new. IMO, it is merely a symptom of a deeper fact of America's self-image: we are anti-authority. It's an integral aspect of the Declaration of Independence and is practically baked into the Constitution. In the US, rights of the individual are primary and are explicitly protected from authority figures (elected or not).
 
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  • #8
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From my perspective, the anti-science behavior is not new. IMO, it is merely a symptom of a deeper fact of America's self-image: we are anti-authority. It's an integral aspect of the Declaration of Independence and is practically baked into the Constitution. In the US, rights of the individual are primary and are explicitly protected from authority figures (elected or not).
I agree with this. It is the source of a lot of our problems while at the same time being a large part of the appeal of the U.S. (To the extent that still exists).

-Dave K
 
  • #9
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On this list Germany is 13th while United States and Italy are tied at 28th place.

Among the countries I keep threatening to flee to, Germany is #1.

-Dave K
You won't be alone. We've astonishingly many US-Americans here. I remember the following dialog with my nephew in an electronic store on a Saturday morning. The only employee to serve me and my nephew who lives in MI has obviously been an American. Some friends of him came in and they started talking. Now for the dialog:
Me (to my nephew): Sounds like home, doesn't it?
He: No. They're from the South.
 
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  • #10
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  • #12
gleem
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(2) The general tendency (observed by psychologists) of picking and choosing to believe facts that confirm an individual's pre-existing social, religious, and ideological beliefs, and
This seems to me to be the fundamental reason(s) why even science literate people can and do harbor a unscientific positions. This confirmational bias may be subconscious as well making scientific or rational arguments ineffective in changing an opinion. Scientists may not be the best persons to try and communicate the importance of their work. Stating even obvious facts often fails to convince. Teaching people to think like a scientist is no more effective. We naturally trust those who share our values. We reject anything that assaults our sensibilities, our desires, or our beliefs. We have to work at communicating our concerns and maybe we scientists are in general not the best people to do this. Really we do not communicate all that well. Scientist are stereotypically opinionated, obstinate, and unengaging. And general population is sensitive to these qualities and I think tend not to want to listen.

To throw another clod into the churn the Internet facilitates this confirmational bias. People will naturally go to those sites they feel comfortable and we know that it is filled to the brim with alternative facts to reinforce their beliefs. This short circuits the rational thought processes.
 
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  • #13
StatGuy2000
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This seems to me to be the fundamental reason(s) why even science literate people can and do harbor a unscientific positions. This confirmational bias may be subconscious as well making scientific or rational arguments ineffective in changing an opinion. Scientists may not be the best persons to try and communicate the importance of their work. Stating even obvious facts often fails to convince. Teaching people to think like a scientist is no more effective. We naturally trust those who share our values. We reject anything that assaults our sensibilities, our desires, or our beliefs. We have to work at communicating our concerns and maybe we scientists are in general not the best people to do this. Really we do not communicate all that well. Scientist are stereotypically opinionated, obstinate, and unengaging. And general population is sensitive to these qualities and I think tend not to want to listen.

To throw another clod into the churn the Internet facilitates this confirmational bias. People will naturally go to those sites they feel comfortable and we know that it is filled to the brim with alternative facts to reinforce their beliefs. This short circuits the rational thought processes.
I tend to agree with all of the statements you mention above. Then this leads to the question -- has there been anything in the literature that indicates what is actually effective in changing people's opinions? Because people's opinions can and do change (e.g. opinions on slavery). What are the most effective communications strategy in changing opinions that do challenge our sensibilities, desires or beliefs? And who is best able to communicate the concerns (if scientists are not the best to do so)?
 
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  • #14
StatGuy2000
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As an interesting counterpoint to wolram's link on the American public's denial of science is the following Pew Research poll conducted in October 2016, which shows that Americans' trust in scientists are relatively high, with 84% saying they trust medical scientists a "great deal" or a "fair deal" and 76% saying the same for all other scientists. You can see more details in the link below.

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tan...nd-scientists-to-act-in-the-publics-interest/
 
  • #15
Choppy
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I think social factors play a role as well.
You can take the most rational people in the world, but then put them in an environment such as a religious community where reinforcing the local dogma is rewarded and speaking against it results in ostracism. And it's one thing if that ostracism means that you just find a different group of friends. It's completely different if you might be denied access to your children or other family members, kicked out of your house, have to face an argument every time you come home with people you love, etc. And its not just religious communities either. This can happen in schools, the workplace, etc. because like it or not there can be stigma attached to expressing certain points of view.
 
  • #16
wolram
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The Americans are not on their own, I personally know creationists, I find it impossible to talk to them about science other than medical science.
 
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The Americans are not on their own, I personally know creationists, I find it impossible to talk to them about science other than medical science.
I just thought this week: If even the Catholic Church doesn't dissent evolution anymore, it should make people think.
 
  • #18
BillTre
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One thing to consider about the US is that it is large and quite diverse.
Along with that, the educational systems are run by state or more often county (or more local) school boards. This results in a huge diversity of educational systems.
Personally, I went to a very good, well funded public school in Bethesda, Maryland and got a good science education (which was my intent at the time).
I think education has a lot to do with what peoples attitudes are.

This seems to me to be the fundamental reason(s) why even science literate people can and do harbor a unscientific positions. This confirmational bias may be subconscious as well making scientific or rational arguments ineffective in changing an opinion. Scientists may not be the best persons to try and communicate the importance of their work. Stating even obvious facts often fails to convince. Teaching people to think like a scientist is no more effective. We naturally trust those who share our values. We reject anything that assaults our sensibilities, our desires, or our beliefs.
I would agree with this, but I would restate it as a case of cognitive dissonance:
Some people will (perhaps unconsciously) detect a conceptual mismatch between say a religious belief and a scientifically derive conclusion and have to choose. The religious belief could well be held more dear emotionally and so the scientific approach would be rejected.

By picking real world examples of things that have effects upon people's lives you might be able to get around this problem by virtue of the real world impact.
 
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Oh yes people think and see that the religious worldview is nowadays way more consistent, explaining btw quite well why those scientists who are limited by materialism (which is strongly imposed on them by their degree-hunting lifestyle) are doomed to observe the mirage of evolution.
 
  • #20
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"(2) The general tendency (observed by psychologists) of picking and choosing to believe facts that confirm an individual's pre-existing social, religious, and ideological beliefs, and (3) The activities of various different groups who seek to exploit this tendency found among individuals as identified in (2) above."

"In their own minds, they are not rejecting science, but only the parts of it that make them uncomfortable."


"the anti-science behavior is not new. IMO, it is merely a symptom of a deeper fact of America's self-image: we are anti-authority."

I wonder about that. Sometimes I think USA'ers are the most pro authority people on the Earth. The belief in a leader. Sure, rant and rave but when the leader says kill, you do. ie impose your authority on those who reject it.

"confirmational bias. People will naturally go to those sites they feel comfortable and we know that it is filled to the brim with alternative facts to reinforce their beliefs."

absolutely. That's a why I'm here. I recognise my tendency to believe and seek ways to challenge that.

"has there been anything in the literature that indicates what is actually effective in changing people's opinions?"


read Edward Bernays on Propaganda(1928). There is one quote of his I'm having difficulty finding. Maybe it's rather a distillation of a number of quotes. Anyhow, paraphrasing: "The truth doesn't matter. What matters is what people believe to be the truth."

"take the most rational people in the world, but then put them in an environment such as a religious community where reinforcing the local dogma is rewarded and speaking against it results in ostracism."

One example of that is during the 50's when a group of liberal christians (anti segregationists) moved down south to establish a community. Instead of them affecting the locals, they themselves started to use the language and behaviours of the locals and started to rear pro segregationist children.

“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.”
George Orwell, 1984
 
  • #21
gleem
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  • #22
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By picking real world examples of things that have effects upon people's lives you might be able to get around this problem by virtue of the real world impact.
Climate change and vaccines, to pick two of the most common discussion points, have a direct impact on people's life.
Evolution has an indirect one via advances in medicine.
 
  • #23
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"(2) The general tendency (observed by psychologists) of picking and choosing to believe facts that confirm an individual's pre-existing social, religious, and ideological beliefs, and (3) The activities of various different groups who seek to exploit this tendency found among individuals as identified in (2) above."

"In their own minds, they are not rejecting science, but only the parts of it that make them uncomfortable."


"the anti-science behavior is not new. IMO, it is merely a symptom of a deeper fact of America's self-image: we are anti-authority."

I wonder about that. Sometimes I think USA'ers are the most pro authority people on the Earth. The belief in a leader. Sure, rant and rave but when the leader says kill, you do. ie impose your* authority on those who reject it.

"confirmational bias. People will naturally go to those sites they feel comfortable and we know that it is filled to the brim with alternative facts to reinforce their beliefs."

absolutely. That's a why I'm here. I recognise my tendency to believe and seek ways to challenge that.

"has there been anything in the literature that indicates what is actually effective in changing people's opinions?"

read Edward Bernays on Propaganda(1928). There is one quote of his I'm having difficulty finding. Maybe it's rather a distillation of a number of quotes. Anyhow, paraphrasing: "The truth doesn't matter. What matters is what people believe to be the truth."

"take the most rational people in the world, but then put them in an environment such as a religious community where reinforcing the local dogma is rewarded and speaking against it results in ostracism."

One example of that is during the 50's when a group of liberal christians (anti segregationists) moved down south to establish a community. Instead of them affecting the locals, they themselves started to use the language and behaviours of the locals and started to rear pro segregationist children.

“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.”
― George Orwell, 1984
* rather: you authorise a minority to impose the authority of one and authorise that one to force you to accept that authority.

deeper: you believe you act freely to authorise a minority to impose the authority of one and authorise that one to force you to accept that authority and you will defend to the death their right to do so.

deeper still: you are indoctrinated to believe you act freely to authorise a minority to impose the authority of one who represents the interests of an even smaller minority and authorise that one who is really only a presidency and as such untouchable by law to force you to accept that authority and you will defend to the death their right to do so.
 
  • #24
Student100
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I think a lot of people are extrapolating beyond the data presented (which isn't a lot from Pew). We're talking about American lack of scientific education and a general science problem in the US when in reality we're presented with three topics: Climate Change, Evolution, and Vaccines. It may or may not be fair to say the US has a climate change problem, or vaccination problem, but science itself is big.

I myself do not believe in any of the research presented by the soft "sciences" (psychologists - and it's many sub-fields like neuroscience, political science, sociologists, etc.) yet still believe that the climate is changing, GMO's are good, vaccines are great, and modern evolutionary theory is as close to truth as we may get.

I think everyone talks about science in too broad of terms, it isn't a binary "Against climate change? You're anti-science!!" No, maybe they just don't like the economic impacts that would result from change, and it's easier to hand-wave away acting on the hard decisions by questioning the premise itself. How many of those questioned in the polls believed one, but discounted the other?

Plus, who believes polls anymore? ?:)
 
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  • #25
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I think everyone talks about science in too broad of terms, it isn't a binary "Against climate change? You're anti-science!!" No, maybe they just don't like the economic impacts that would result from change, and it's easier to hand-wave away acting on the hard decisions by questioning the premise itself. How many of those questioned in the polls believed one, but discounted the other?
If you reject any scientific results for unscientific reasons, I would say you are anti-science. "I don't like it, therefore I think it is wrong" is as anti-scientific as it can get.
You can ignore scientific results for scientific reasons - like poor analysis methods, a very low repetition rate in the given field, and so on. That is perfectly fine (as long as the reasons are justified).
 
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