Scholars interested in public acceptance of science have focused primarily on improving formal and informal science education so that non-scientists better understand science concepts. This goal is based on the intuitive notion that public acceptance of science increases with public understanding of science, a theory referred to as the public deficit model. This model, however, oversimplifies a complex problem: although there are modest gains in acceptance of scientific findings with increasing scientific understanding, increasingly research demonstrates that individuals’ “priors” (i.e., prior beliefs, attitudes, values, ideologies) strongly shape their acceptance of science. Rather than accepting scientific evidence that conflicts with prior world-views, people often use their knowledge and reasoning abilities to more effectively explain it away (i.e. motivated reasoning). Therefore, improving education by itself is not enough to increase acceptance of science, whether we are discussing evolution, climate change, or genetically-modified organisms.
My collaborator Dan Kahan and I have shown that science curiosity might mitigate against these effects of motivated reasoning. We find that regardless of political or religious values, people who are more science curious are also more likely to accept scientific findings. Importantly, our measure of science curiosity focuses on one’s interest in and valuing of science.
Unlike science knowledge (far left figure), as science curiosity increases, so does the probability of accepting the scientific consensus, even when considering ideology (figure on the right).
I hypothesize that instead of using their political or religious world-views as values filters for interpreting science information, science curious individuals are using a “science values” filter. In other words, the existing schemas within which science curious individuals must integrate new science knowledge are likely based in science instead of politics or religion. Thus, because these individuals value science, they are more likely to accept what science has to offer, even when its implications conflict with deeply-held political or religious values.
Because valuing science may mitigate the motivated evaluation of science information, instilling stronger science-based values in childhood may be a fruitful direction for research with potential benefits for the science-society relationship. This research program aims to (a) understand the process by which children acquire attitudes, beliefs, and values relevant to the system of science (i.e., the process of science socialization), and (b) determine how we might better socialize children in the benefit and values of science.
We are currently collecting data for this project! We will update soon!