The Political Context of Science in the United States: Public Acceptance of Evidence-Based Policy and Science Funding

Gauchat, Gordon
December 2015
Social Forces;Dec2015, Vol. 94 Issue 2, p723
Academic Journal
In recent years, professional science organizations in the United States, including the National Research Council, National Institutes of Health, and National Science Foundation, have expressed concern about waning policy influence, declining government funding, and the growing politicization of science. Given this background, a number of theoretical questions motivate this study. First, what is the political context of scientific authority in the contemporary United States? More specifically, how can we best understand the association between political ideology and public perceptions of science in the current polarized environment? Using data from the National Science Foundation's Survey of Public Attitudes Toward and Understanding of Science and Technology (2006-2012), this study finds that the American public is culturally and politically divided in its support for the intersection of science and the state. Various models of political and cultural polarization are tested. Overall, ideological challenges to the cultural authority of science cannot be reduced to left-right political polarization or to conservative religious beliefs. Instead, skepticism on the political right is multifold, involving distinct modes of thought and concerns about the institutional ties between science and the state.


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