Political ideologies predict denial of science in COVID vaccine war
Along with the politically motivated denial of the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine is a dramatic politicization of trust in science itself. In a survey conducted in June and July, Gallup found that the percentage of Republicans expressing a “great” or “a lot” confidence in science has fallen, shockingly, from 72% in 1975 to just 45% today. hui. During the same period, trust in science among Democrats has increased from 67% to 79%.
Scientific institutions have never been perfect, but overall they have a huge track record of success, both in basic research and in applied sciences like epidemiology and immunology. The general public accepts without much complaint the opinion of experts on, for example, antibiotics, radio waves, orbital mechanics or electrical conductivity. Obviously, people are happy with applied science in almost every area of life.
So why is confidence in science so malleable, and what does a person’s political orientation have to do with it?
The rejection of scientific expertise when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines seems to substitute for something else. As a philosopher who has studied denial of science, I suggest that this “something else” includes factors such as distrust of public institutions and perceived threats to one’s cultural identity.
Ideologies that merge with the denial of science
Identifying as a Republican is very strongly associated with adhering to the core tenets of conservative ideology. A 2021 public opinion study confirms that endorsement of conservative political ideology is currently the dominant predictor of anti-science attitudes.
Another recent study on anti-science attitudes identifies several trends particularly associated with conservative ideology. People who hold anti-science beliefs tend to be sympathetic to right-wing authoritarianism, i.e. they are conformists who rely on selected authority figures and are ready. to act aggressively on behalf of these figures.
They also tend to support the group-based hierarchy, with “higher” groups dominating “lower” groups. Political psychologists call this “social dominance orientation” and see it, for example, in attitudes about racial or gender equality.
Indeed, social scientists who examine the causes of denial of science have increasingly focused on two contributing causes. Certain personality traits, including comfort with existing social and cultural hierarchies and a predilection for authoritarianism, go hand in hand with a skepticism for science. The same is true of closely related aspects of identity, such as identification with a dominant social group such as evangelical white Christians.
Conservative traditionalists from the historically dominant white Christian population in the United States have had the most reason to feel threatened by science. Evolution by natural selection threatens many doctrinal religious traditionalists. Climate science threatens the economic status quo that the conservatives seek to maintain. The whole concept of a public health mandate runs counter to the individualism of the “small government” of political conservatives.
Additionally, because COVID-19 has been heavily politicized since the start of the pandemic, public health measures have become directly associated with the political left. The rejection of such measures has therefore become a signal of political and cultural identity.
Other recent studies on denial of science have shown that people who have little faith in the honesty and trustworthiness of others, as well as in social institutions like government, academia, and the media, have tendency to deny the dangers of COVID-19. Low social trust tends to follow a conservative political orientation, especially support for Trump. Its supporters are much more likely to say that scientific research is politically motivated.
Grab for a sense of control
Growing economic inequality and racial and ethnic diversification are also part of the mix of scientific denial.
One school of thought in psychology, called compensatory control theory, argues that many social phenomena, including the denial of ideological science, arise from the basic human need for a sense of control over one’s environment and the outcomes of one’s life. According to this theory, perceived threats to the sense of personal control can motivate the denial of scientific consensus. The idea is that due to a combination of economic insecurity, demographic shifts, and the perceived erosion of whites-favoring cultural norms, some people feel an existential threat to white supremacy that they have long enjoyed. which prompts them to deny the government’s warnings. on the dangers of COVID-19.
I believe this compulsive defensive plays a big role in the phenomenon of denial of science, once trusted elites like politicians or media hosts trigger the tendency to oppose a particular science-based public policy. . You can’t control the coronavirus – or the inequalities, or a changing culture – but you can control whether you take the vaccine or wear a mask. This sense of control is implicitly, but powerfully appealing on a deep emotional level.
The need for control may also explain an attraction to politicians or media figures who promise to give you back your power by endorsing unproven alternative home remedies, such as ivermectin.
Denial fuels political polarization
As I say in my book “The Truth About Denial,” I think denial of science, including denial of the COVID-19 vaccine, is probably best viewed as the result of vicious feedback loops. Factors such as economic pain, white Christian identity, and low social trust play out in populations facing relative social and informational isolation. This denial can more easily set in among people who have chosen to limit their experiences to relatively homogeneous geographic areas, social contexts and media environments.
In the short term, a company’s failure to immunize enough people to bring COVID-19 under control will dramatically change people’s lives for years to come. The bigger problem is how science itself has become politicized in ways never seen before. This development endangers the ability of organized society to respond effectively to pandemics and other existential threats, including climate change.
Is there any hope of depolarizing the issue of COVID-19 vaccination, or confidence in the science itself? I probably wouldn’t say, unless the conservative leaders in politics, media, and religion make a concerted effort to change the narrative.
This article was published in collaboration with The conversation, an independent, non-profit editor of commentary and analysis, written by academics on hot topics related to their research.
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