A recently published study in the American Sociologist reveals reasons why conservatives express increased skepticism of science when compared to moderates or left-leaning individuals. Many researchers and political commentators commonly attribute the decades-long decline of trust to ideological defensiveness on the part of conservatives. However, Nathan Cofnas and his research team at the University of Oxford offer an alternative view of the data. According to their research, the issue isn’t conservatives attempting to shield their beliefs from scientific inquiry, but rather it is caused by many scientists introducing their own political notions into their research.
For example, Cofnas and his colleagues refer to a 2007 incident where the former president of the American Political Science Association, Robert Putnam, reported that he had delayed publishing findings about the negative effects of diversity until he had developed proposals to compensate for them. In his own words, Putnam states that it “would have been irresponsible to publish [the paper] without that.” The study notes the “disturbing implication” of Putnam’s actions: if he could not reconcile his research with the key liberal tenet of diversity, then it would never have been responsible to publish it.
Furthermore, the Cofnas study explores how the many fraudulent and sensational papers produced by Diederik Stapel escaped serious review for so long. His work focused on such topics as how Whites or men can be easily persuaded to discriminate against Blacks or women. How was he able to elude discovery for so long? He stated himself that he was just giving social scientists what they were “waiting for” given the state of the literature. His belief reveals quite a bit about the common characteristics of his field. Indeed, he was not the only one to overtly insert political bias into academic research. The entire field of Sociology is rife with what the study terms “impact scientists” — inserting their own opinions into their reports.
At the end of the paper, Cofnas and his colleagues predict that should liberal bias be consciously rooted out and the social sciences diversified, conservative trust in scientists will grow.