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Unsurprisingly, a new Pew Research Center survey released in September indicates that throughout global societies, politically liberal citizens tend to “express more trust in scientists” and facts than conservatives — a finding that tracks directly with who is more likely or less to believe in religious fantasies (guess who).
The findings were released in a Pew report titled “Science and Scientists Held in High Esteem Across Global Publics: Yet there is ambivalence in many publics over developments in AI, workplace automation, food science.”
But of particular interest to me in relation to this nonreligious blog is the fact that conservatives overall were found far less trusting of fact-based science and of the integrity of scientists than their left-leaning counterparts, as they are strikingly more likely than liberals to embrace fact-free religious beliefs.
In America, conservatives are decidedly more likely than liberals to associate with sects of the nation’s majority faith, Christianity, for example, and less trusting than liberals of scientific characterizations of the current coronavirus pandemic and the safety and efficacy of vaccines to combat it. Read Pew’s 2019 report on the nexus of American religion and politics, here.
The divergence between conservatives and liberals on the actuality of faith versus facts is arresting. Which is to say conservatives appear far quicker than liberals to trust their intuitions, biases, beliefs and emotional responses even over strong factual evidence that they are likely if not certainly wrong.
Case in point, more than 74 million Americans (46.8 percent) voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, in which a keystone of his campaign were the triple falsehood that he had “done a good job” in combatting Covid-19, that its final disappearance was just “around the corner,” and that “after November 4 nobody will be talking about Covid.”
In fact, new cases and deaths were skyrocketing by election day, and the two highest daily death counts for the pandemic to date were registered Dec. 29 (3,729) and Dec. 30 (3,744), ABC News reported from Johns Hopkins University cumulative data. Also on Dec. 30, hospitals were overloaded with 125,220 Covid patients, another record. Nearly 343,000 Americans had by then died of the disease.
Still, ignoring fully substantiated facts on the coronavirus, Trump minions had voted in droves for the candidate who refused to accept them and had urged them to do the same.
Worse, now that the election is over, with vote tallies and Joe Biden’s victory (and Trump’s loss) certified by every state, and the president’s allegations of voter fraud thrown out in virtually every frivolous court case in various states (including the U.S. Supreme Court), Trump voters continue parroting the lame duck president’s baseless insistence that he actually won: “Stop the Steal,” is now the bogus slogan of the doomed opposition urged on by the nation’s soon-to-be-former top leader.
On the other hand, more than 81 million voters (51.3 percent of those voting) cast ballots for Biden (and Kamala Harris, his VP running mate) and against Trump in large part because they wanted a commander in chief for the nation who would follow hard science over fact-free political loyalty and ideological inertia in facing down the pandemic.
In the meantime, the Christian right continues its campaign to insert ever more evangelical true believers and doctrine into U.S. government as part of its pipe dream of one day achieving a Christian theocracy in America. If you don’t believe me, pay attention to what Trump’s now former attorney general, the devoutly Catholic Bill Barr, and current evangelical Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have said, here and here.
So, Pew’s finding that conservatives value facts less than liberals is hardly a new idea. But it’s informative to see it substantiated in a new way.
Nobel Prize-winning economist (2009) and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman discussed this curious fact aversion in a recent op-ed piece titled “When Did Republicans Start Hating Facts? A straight line runs from Reagan to the Trump dead-enders.” The column begins:
“Republicans spent most of 2020 rejecting science in the face of a runaway pandemic; now they’re rejecting democracy in the face of a clear election loss.
“What do these rejections have in common? In each case, one of America’s two major parties simply refused to accept facts it didn’t like.”
Another excellent recent piece on this topic of anti-fact Republicanism was by Peter Wehner in The Atlantic magazine, titled “Trump’s Most Malicious Legacy: The outgoing president leaves behind a tribalistic, distrustful, and sometimes delusional political culture.”
Pew reports that while public trust in scientists worldwide is generally positive, that trust “often varies with ideology. … those on the left express more trust in scientists than those on the right.” The report continued:
“Such differences are especially pronounced in the U.S., where fully 62% of those on the left have a lot of trust in scientists, compared with two-in-ten [20%] of those on the right. (The gap is similar factoring in party identification; 67% of liberal Democrats in the U.S. say they have a lot of trust in scientists, compared with 17% of conservative Republicans.)”
That’s a 42-point spread.
The Pew report notes that a corollary of this conservative attitude to poo-poo science and scientists is that right-leaning people, especially in the U.S., value practical experience over expertise.
This anti-intellectual bias has a long and checkered past in the U.S. (remember the bogus “Red Scare” in the 1950s), as well as in other countries (both China and Cambodia, for example, ruthlessly — even murderously — persecuted educated and so-called “elite” citizens when enforcing Communism on their societies).
The Pew survey reveals that this antipathy to truth and actuality in favor of prejudice is still alive and well around the world, but especially in America.
Indeed, nearly half the U.S. population subscribes to this nonsense.
It’s encouraging news that the new president (and Biden will, in fact, be president) values truth over fiction. But, still, the extensive know-nothing damage done to our democracy during Trump’s amoral, bulldozing administration will be hard to repair.