Friday, June 24, 2016


Should science be used to solve our problems? The easy answer seems yes, but not everyone agrees. There's this question in the 2012 ANES:
When trying to solve important problems, how often should the government rely on scientific approaches? 
First, let's look at the distribution of responses. I have weighted the data to reflect the general population parameters, so this differs from the raw numbers and percents.
  • Never (239, or 4.4 percent)
  • Some of the Time (1,807, or 33.6 percent)
  • About Half of the Time (1,351, or 25.1 percent)
  • Most of the Time (1,471, or 27.3 percent)
  • Always (511, or 9.5 percent)
If you score this as a 1-to-5 variable, with 1 being "never" and 5 "always," you get a mean of 3.0 and standard deviation of 1.1. It has a reasonable distribution. 

As you'd expect, certain factors are negatively associated with a belief in science being used to solve our problems. Below are some correlations. To explain, a negative number means the greater that variable, the less you support scientific approaches to solve problems. A positive coefficient means the greater that variable, the more you support such approaches. Below the table, my comments.

Born-Again Christian
Attend Religious Services
Religion as Guide
Literal Bible


Party ID (GOP high)
Ideology (conservative)

TV News Exposure
Fox News Viewing
Internet News
Paper Newspaper Read


Asterisks signify statistical significance. The first batch of variables are the obvious ones -- religious, and all are negatively associated with the notion that government should rely on scientific solutions to solve our problems. No big surprise that the more you believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, for example, the less you believe in government using scientific approaches to solve problems.

The next small group is demographic. Older respondents are less trusting of science, while those with more education or income prefer a scientific approach. Then comes partisanship and ideology and it's no surprise that the more Republican or conservative you are, the less enamored you are with scientific approaches. The media variables demonstrate the difference between those who rely on television news (and especially Fox News) and those who rely on Internet-based news. Finally, the "Vocabulary" variable is a test of one's vocabulary, just what it sounds like. No surprise those who score higher on this also are more willing to use scientific approaches.

I'm just messing with data, trying to decide whether a more comprehensive analysis is justified. I can say a quick-and-dirty regression analysis finds some factors drop out (income, prayer, television news) when controlling for all the other factors. The single most powerful predictor is education (beta = .17, p<.001). The most powerful negative predictor is ideology (beta = -.12, p<.001). Even with all these controls, watching Fox News remains a negative predictor (beta = -.04, p<.01) and Internet news reading a positive predictor (beta = .05, p<.001).

Oh, and just for fun, I found that watching The Big Bang Theory is unrelated to a belief in whether the government should use scientific methods to solve problems. No idea what that means. Just passing it along.


I calculated an index based on four items designed to measure moral traditionalism. For example, one question asks
The world is always changing and we should adjust our view of moral behavior to those changes.
The other items are similar and they all hang together nicely as an index (Cronbach's Alpha = .71 for you stats nerds out there). The correlation between moral traditionalism and science to solve problems is -.26, p<.001, stronger than any item above. In the regression analysis it dominates compared to other factors, with beta = -.14, p<.001.

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