It is almost surely a mistake to think that highly divisive conflicts over science are attributable to general distrust of science or scientists. Most Americans—regardless of their cultural identities—hold scientists in high regard, and don’t give a second’s thought to whether they should rely on what science knows when making important decisions. The sorts of disagreements we see over climate change and a small number of additional factual issues stem from considerations particular to those issues (National Research Council 2016). The most consequential of these considerations are toxic memes, which have transformed positions on these issues into badges of membership in and loyalty to competing cultural groups (Kahan et al 2017; Stanovich & West 2008).
We will call this position the “particularity thesis.” We will distinguish it from competing accounts of how “attitudes toward science” relate to controversy on policy-relevant facts. We’ve already adverted to two related ones: the “public ambivalence” thesis, which posits a widespread public unease toward science or scientists; and the “right-wing anti-science” thesis, which asserts that distrust of science is a consequence of holding a conservative political orientation or like cultural disposition. . . .
Kahan, D.M., K.H. Jamieson, A. Landrum & K. Winneg, 2017. Culturally antagonistic memes and the Zika virus: an experimental test. Journal of Risk Research, 20(1), 1-40.
National Research Council 2016. Science Literacy: Concepts, Contexts and Consequences. A Report of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. Washington DC: National Academies Press.
Stanovich, K. & R. West, 2008. On the failure of intelligence to predict myside bias and one-sided bias. Thinking & Reasoning, 14, 129-67.