Yale Professor’s ‘Surprising’ Discovery: Tea Partiers Have Higher ‘Scientific Comprehension’


This is bound to surprise some people.

While conducting an analysis of the scientific comprehension of various political and religious groups, Yale professor Daniel M. Kahan discovered that self-identified tea partiers had slightly higher “scientific comprehension” than their non-tea party counterparts.

Using data from the National Science Foundation’s “Science Indicators,” the Cognitive Reflection Test, and a “nationally representative sample of U.S. adults recruited to participate in a study of vaccine risk perceptions,” Kahan developed a series of “science comprehension” scales to analyze a variety of groups.

Among his findings: “Scientific literacy correlates negatively with religiosity.” And “science comprehension decreases as political outlooks move in the rightward direction — i.e., the more ‘liberal’ and ‘Democrat,’ the more science comprehending.”

But when he analyzed the data for the 19% of respondents who self-identified as tea partiers, he was astonished to find that those people exhibited a slightly greater scientific comprehension than non-tea party members. In addition, Kahan noted, self-described “tea partiers” also scored higher scientific comprehension than “conservatives.” The histogram below demonstrates the former, via:

While noting that this relationship is “trivially small,” Kahan wrote: “I’ve got to confess. I found this result surprising. As I pushed the button to run the analysis on my computer, I fully expected I’d be shown a modest negative correlation between identifying with the Tea Party and science comprehension.”

“But then again,” he admitted, “I don’t know a single person who identifies with the Tea Party. All my impressions come from watching cable tv — & I don’t watch Fox News very often — and reading the “paper” (New York Times daily, plus a variety of politics-focused internet sites like Huffington Post & Politico).”

Ultimately, Kahan concluded, “I’m a little embarrassed, but mainly I’m just glad that I no longer hold this particular mistaken view.”

However, he added, “Next time I collect data, too, I won’t be surprised at all if the correlations between science comprehension and political ideology or identification with the Tea Party movement disappear or flip their signs.”

[h/t IJR]
[featured image via Shutterstock]

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