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Monday, June 7, 2021

Science Skepticism Across 24 Countries

Rutjens, B. T., et al., (2021). 
Social Psychological and Personality Science. 


Efforts to understand and remedy the rejection of science are impeded by lack of insight into how it varies in degree and in kind around the world. The current work investigates science skepticism in 24 countries (N = 5,973). Results show that while some countries stand out as generally high or low in skepticism, predictors of science skepticism are relatively similar across countries. One notable effect was consistent across countries though stronger in Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) nations: General faith in science was predicted by spirituality, suggesting that it, more than religiosity, may be the ‘enemy’ of science acceptance. Climate change skepticism was mainly associated with political conservatism especially in North America. Other findings were observed across WEIRD and non-WEIRD nations: Vaccine skepticism was associated with spirituality and scientific literacy, genetic modification skepticism with scientific literacy, and evolution skepticism with religious orthodoxy. Levels of science skepticism are heterogeneous across countries, but predictors of science skepticism are heterogeneous across domains.

From the Discussion

Indeed, confirming previous results obtained in the Netherlands (Rutjens & van der Lee, 2020)—and providing strong support for Hypothesis 6—the current data speak to the crucial role of spirituality in fostering low faith in science, more generally, beyond its domain-specific effects on vaccine skepticism. This indicates that the negative impact of spirituality on faith in science represents a cross-national phenomenon that is more generalizable than might be expected based on the large variety (Muthukrishna et al., 2020) of countries included here. A possible explanation for the robustness of this effect may lie in the inherent irreconcilability of the intuitive epistemology of a spiritual belief system with science (Rutjens & van der Lee, 2020). (If so, then we might look at a potentially much larger problem that extends beyond spirituality and applies more generally to “post-truth” society, in which truth and perceptions of reality may be based on feelings rather than facts; Martel et al., 2020; Rutjens & Brandt, 2018.) However, these results do not mean that traditional religiosity as a predictor of science skepticism (McPhetres & Zuckermann, 2018; Rutjens, Heine, et al., 2018; Rutjens, Sutton, & van der Lee, 2018) has now become irrelevant: Not only did religious orthodoxy significantly contribute to low faith in science, it was also found to be a very consistent cross-national predictor of evolution skepticism (but not of other forms of science skepticism included in the study).