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Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Monday, August 8, 2022

Why are people antiscience, and what can we do about it?

Phillipp-Muller, A, Lee, W.S., & Petty, R. E.
PNAS (2022). 
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2120755119.


From vaccination refusal to climate change denial, antiscience views are threatening humanity. When different individuals are provided with the same piece of scientific evidence, why do some accept whereas others dismiss it? Building on various emerging data and models that have explored the psychology of being antiscience, we specify four core bases of key principles driving antiscience attitudes. These principles are grounded in decades of research on attitudes, persuasion, social influence, social identity, and information processing. They apply across diverse domains of antiscience phenomena. Specifically, antiscience attitudes are more likely to emerge when a scientific message comes from sources perceived as lacking credibility; when the recipients embrace the social membership or identity of groups with antiscience attitudes; when the scientific message itself contradicts what recipients consider true, favorable, valuable, or moral; or when there is a mismatch between the delivery of the scientific message and the epistemic style of the recipient. Politics triggers or amplifies many principles across all four bases, making it a particularly potent force in antiscience attitudes. Guided by the key principles, we describe evidence-based counteractive strategies for increasing public acceptance of science.

Concluding Remarks

By offering an inclusive framework of key principles underlying antiscience attitudes, we aim to advance theory and research on several fronts: Our framework highlights basic principles applicable to antiscience phenomena across multiple domains of science. It predicts situational and personal variables (e.g., moralization, attitude strength, and need for closure) that amplify people’s likelihood and intensity of being antiscience. It unpacks why politics is such a potent force with multiple aspects of influence on antiscience attitudes. And it suggests a range of counteractive strategies that target each of the four bases. Beyond explaining, predicting, and addressing antiscience views, our framework raises unresolved questions for future research.

With the prevalence of antiscience attitudes, scientists and science communicators face strong headwinds in gaining and sustaining public trust and in conveying scientific information in ways that will be accepted and integrated into public understanding. It is a multifaceted problem that ranges from erosions in the credibility of scientists to conflicts with the identities, beliefs, attitudes, values, morals, and epistemic styles of different portions of the population, exacerbated by the toxic ecosystem of the politics of our time. Scientific information can be difficult to swallow, and many individuals would sooner reject the evidence than accept information that suggests they might have been wrong. This inclination is wholly understandable, and scientists should be poised to empathize. After all, we are in the business of being proven wrong, but that must not stop us from helping people get things right.