Science Skepticism Has Grown. Who’s to Blame?

Rick Hess:

I’ve just released the 13th iteration of the annual RHSU Edu-Scholar rankings, an exercise designed to recognize those who are bringing research, scholarship, and scientific expertise into the public square. In doing so, I’ve sought to honor serious researchers who leave the comfort of the ivory tower to share their particular expertise. The challenge: some scholars who are only too eager to use their credentials and platform to clothe personal agendas in the garb of “science.”

This year, that tension loomed especially large. Indeed, the pandemic-era tendency to wield science as a partisan cudgel (think of all those pointedly progressive “We believe science is real” rainbow yard signs) has harmed public debate, education decisionmaking, and science itself.

In 2021, Gallup reported that 64 percent of U.S. adults said they had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in science. That’s down 6 points from the last time Gallup asked that question, in 1975. Especially notable were the profound partisan shifts over time. In 1975, two-thirds of Democrats said they had confidence in science; by 2021, that had climbed to 79 percent. Meanwhile, trust fell among independents (from 73 percent to 65 percent) and plunged among Republicans (from 72 percent to 45 percent).

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