Photo by Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images.
This may explain some of the rhetoric we've been hearing in GOP stump speeches of late: The number of conservatives who say they have a "great deal" of trust in science has fallen to 35 percent, down 28 points from the mid-1970s, according to a new academic paper.
The study, which was published Thursday in the American Sociological Review, found that liberal and moderate attitudes toward the topic have remained mostly unchanged since national pollsters first began posing the question in 1974, back when roughly half of all liberals and conservatives expressed significant trust in science.
The peer-reviewed research paper explains: "These results are quite profound because they imply that conservative discontent with science was not attributable to the uneducated but to rising distrust among educated conservatives."
The man behind the study, UNC Chapel Hill's Gordon Gauchat, says the change comes as conservatives have rebelled against the so-called "elite."
"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," Gauchat explained in an interview with U.S. News. "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."
The sociologist suggested that the shift is also likely tied to science's changing role in the national dialogue. In the middle of the 20th century, science was tied closely with NASA and the Department of Defense, but now it more frequently comes up when the conversation shifts to the environment and government regulations.
"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 said. "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."