From an expert walled up behind the 30-metre Oblivion Wall, we learn the causes of “science denial” …

Neurologist at Steven Novella tells us,

A recent publication of a series of studies looking at the roots of science rejection is a nice cap on this research: Not All Skepticism Is Equal: Exploring the Ideological Antecedents of Science Acceptance and Rejection.

The researchers looked primarily at three forms of rejection of science: climate change denial, vaccine rejection, and skepticism about GM technology. They also looked at a number of possible correlating factors: political ideology, moral purity, religiosity, support for science, faith in science, and scientific literacy.

There are a lot of details here, and if you want to delve in deeply it’s best to just read the original study (it’s pretty accessible). I will give a summary of the overall findings here.

They found that climate change denial was predicted mainly by political ideology, but not by low scientific literacy. Vaccine rejection was predicted by low scientific literacy and low faith in science, and also by religiosity and moral purity. Distrust of GM food was predicted by low scientific literacy and low faith in science. Neither vaccine or GM food rejection were predicted by political ideology.

Further, there was a lot of interplay among these various measures. For example, religious orthodoxy was the main driver of low faith in science and support for science.

One lesson from all this is that belief is very complicated, and it is difficult to tease apart all the various influences. A study, for example, that only looked at political ideology and science rejection would miss a massive part of the picture. More.

Yes, it is “difficult to tease apart.” Because it is mostly bunk. There are lots of reasons why people don’t believe things. Let’s start with: Is it believable?

If, as a recent piece in Times Higher says, peer review is an “ineffective and unworthy” institution, why should people “believe” science any more than they believe a dodgy bank?

People like Novella are going to have to do better than hurl insults at the public from behind Oblivion Wall.

See also: At Times Higher: Peer review an “ineffective and unworthy” institution, some reforms proposed. The angst machine has been running on this topic for decades now. Hatton and Warr do recognize a critical aspect of the main problem: Peer review success enables a scientist to get established doing what other scientists do far more than it enables advancement of the field itself. And that is especially true when hard questions might need to be asked like, are we on the wrong track?


Blinkers Award goes to… Tom Nichols at Scientific American! On why Americans “hate science” Health science is the way most people interact with science and in many areas, it is running neck and neck with the office rumor mill for credibility.

  • Drunk by Noon ✓

    I’m perfectly willing to “hate science” especially when what passes for “science” these days isn’t really science but instead a public policy mill that is, through the magic of government grants, nothing more than a lysenkoism of our day.
    Not all science is created equal, and so not everything that masquerades as science, really IS science.
    In the 21st century, to re-tool a 1775 phrase from Samuel Johnson, “science is the last refuge of a fraudster”.
    Especially one who can only perpetrate their frauds while collecting the government’s tax dollars to produce research that benefits a partisan position at the expense of the truth.

    • CoolTolerance

      Notwithstanding the numerous times scientific studies were overturned?

  • Alain

    I would love to have an honest debate about “science denial” based on proven facts, but those who spout about people denying science are the ones in denial to be nice, or rather just agenda-driven propagandists. Science makes it clear there are only two sexes, male and female, (yes I know there is the extremely rare case of a person or animal being born with a little of both genitals), but anyone following the science is called a denier or worse. Science has also proved that “second-hand” smoke does not represent a deadly danger, but that is denied. Science shows that the climate has changed on its own several times even prior to the existence of humans, but that is denied in order to claim we control the climate and are responsible for any changes. The list goes on and on, so I find these popous agenda-driven individuals pointing a finger at those like me are an insult to one’s intelligence.