by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Clay Routledge writes for the Martin Center about one facet of tribal politics’ destructive impact.
If you’ve spent much time on a college campus you’ve probably heard the claim that conservatives are anti-science. If you’re a liberal who doesn’t interact with many conservatives, you might have believed it. If you’re conservative, you probably felt frustrated and misrepresented. This view of conservatives as anti-science has been broadcast beyond the college campus. We should all be concerned about the consequences of playing politics with science.
Science isn’t inherently associated with liberal or conservative viewpoints, but tribal politics does influence how people think about scientific issues. Consider a recent study in the journal Nature Human Behaviour that examined the kinds of nonpolitical books conservatives and liberals purchased. Conservatives and liberals were equally interested in science books. In fact, both groups similarly preferred science books over non-fiction books not related to science. This is good news. It reveals a general high level of interest in science among both liberal and conservative readers. Indeed, surveys reveal that Americans across the political divide hold scientists in high regard.
The researchers did, however, detect differences in the types of scientific books conservatives and liberals purchased. Liberals were more inclined to purchase basic science books such as books on astronomy, physics, and zoology. Conservatives were more inclined to purchase applied and commercial science books such as books on medicine, criminology, and geophysics.
These distinctions may be partially accounted for by natural differences in the personal interests of conservatives and liberals. But they also raise concerns about ideological echo chambers.
This is where tribal politics comes into play. When liberals and conservatives read on the same topic (e.g., economics) research indicates that they are selectively consuming information (e.g., books, websites, magazine articles) that reinforces their own ideology.