Love the Science, Hate the Scientists: Conservative Identity Protects Belief in Science and Undermines Trust in Scientists


The decline in trust in the scientific community in the United States among political conservatives has been well established. But this observation is complicated by remarkably positive and stable attitudes toward scientific research itself. What explains the persistence of positive belief in science in the midst of such dramatic change? By leveraging research on the performativity of conservative identity, we argue that conservative scientific institutions have manufactured a scientific cultural repertoire that enables participation in this highly valued epistemological space while undermining scientific authority perceived as politically biased. We test our hypothesized link between conservative identity and scientific perceptions using panel data from the General Social Survey. We find that those with stable conservative identities hold more positive attitudes toward scientific research while simultaneously holding more negative attitudes towards the scientific community compared to those who switch to and from conservative political identities. These findings support a theory of a conservative scientific repertoire that is learned over time and that helps orient political conservatives in scientific debates that have political repercussions. Implications of these findings are discussed for researchers interested in the cultural differentiation of scientific authority and for stakeholders in scientific communication and its public policy.

Social Forces