Aug 22, 2017

Study: knowing more doesn't change disbeliefs about science

Associated Press

If someone is already pre-disposed to disbelieve scientific conclusions around issues like human evolution, climate change, stem cell research or the Big Bang theory because of their religious or political views, learning more about the subject actually increases their disbelief, a new study finds.

Why it matters: The research flies in the face of commonly held views that more science literacy and greater education around controversial scientific issues will diffuse polarization but supports a growing body of evidence about how our identity forms our views.

  • For stem cell research, the Big Bang theory and evolution, religious identity overrode science literacy.
  • Political beliefs surrounding climate change led to polarization.
  • They found little evidence (yet) of political or religious polarization for nanotechnology and genetically modified food.

What they found: Carnegie Mellon social scientists looked at Americans' beliefs around six potentially controversial issues: stem cell research, the Big Bang theory, nanotechnology, GMOs, climate change and evolution. The found people's beliefs about topics associated with their religious and political views become increasingly polarized with more education (measured by markers like the number of years in school, highest degrees earned, aptitude on general science facts or the number of science classes taken). Baruch Fischhoff from CMU said:

"These are troubling correlations. We can only speculate about the underlying causes. One possibility is that people with more education are more likely to know what they are supposed to say, on these polarized issues, in order to express their identity. Another possibility is that they have more confidence in their ability to argue their case."

One bright spot for science literacy advocates: If someone is already pre-disposed to trust the peer-reviewed science process and scientists, they're likely to believe what they say and find in all of these areas.

Go deeper: Arizona State University's Daniel Sarewitz got to the heart of it in the Guardian yesterday.

Go deeper

Stephanie Grisham out as White House press secretary

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham is departing her post to return to the East Wing as First Lady Melania Trump's chief of staff, the White House announced Tuesday. The news was first reported by CNN.

Why it matters: Grisham will leave after nine months without ever having held a formal press briefing. Her departure follows the arrival of new White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who has a chance to overhaul a communications shop that's kept a low profile since President Trump ended the tradition of daily press secretary briefings.

WeWork board sues SoftBank

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

SoftBank was sued Tuesday morning by a special committee of WeWork's board of directors for alleged breaches of contract and fiduciary duty related to SoftBank's decision to cancel a $3 billion tender offer for WeWork shares.

Why it matters: SoftBank is viewed by many in the private markets as an unfaithful partner. If this reaches trial, that reputation could either become widely cemented or reversed.

IEA boss won't let Big Oil off the hook

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Freya Ingrid Morales/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

International Energy Agency executive director Fatih Birol has a tough job these days — responding to an unprecedented crisis now without losing sight of an existential one that must be tackled over decades.

Driving the news: He spoke to Axios yesterday about his work to help stabilize oil markets and ensure coronavirus doesn't sap governments' and companies' work on global warming.