Who has a better comprehension of science–“skeptics” or “nonskeptics”?

Neither, as far as I can tell.

This wasn’t a question we tried to answer directly or reported data on in our Nature Climate Change paper.

But I have been asked a few times now about a Fox News report on our study that states that those who are less concerned about climate change scored “57%” and those who are more concerned “56%” in our measure of science comprehension.

I am guessing the reporter derived the conclusion from this graphic, which is one I produced and circulated to people, including the reporter, in response to questions about a working paper that reported data from the study ultimately published in NCC.

It shows the mean or average number of correct responses on the combined science literacy/numeracy scale (a measure of “science comprehension,” essentially) for study subjects whose responses put them in the top 50% & bottom 50% of the sample on “climate change risk perceptions,” respectively.

The bottom 50% got, on average, 12.6 out of 22 correct. The top 50% got 12.3.

The “56%” & “57%” figures are not in the Figure–or in anything else related to our study. But they are the numbers one gets when one divides 12.3 & 12.6 by 22, respectively.

As can can be seen, this difference is not statistically significant. Not even close. Indeed, I put the graphic together so that I could answer the stock “who knows more” query– I call it the “yeah, but whose is bigger” question — by saying “no one, see!”

If there are people out there (apparently there are; I’m getting lots of email…) who think this is meaningful evidence that one side knows more than the other about science, they really are missing the point. In fact, they are making the kind of mistake that helps explain how it is that the “smarter” half of the population gets a score of 57% on a measure like this.

The gap between those who know more science and those who know less doesn’t explain conflict over climate change science in our society.

But it’s beyond question that the low average state of science literacy is a condition that detracts from our capacity for enlightened self-government.

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