Post-Fact, Post-Scientific Inquiry? Belief in Conspiracy Theories and Public Attitudes Towards Science in the U.S.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 17:45
Oral Presentation
Peter ACHTERBERG, Tilburg University, Netherlands
Scholarly attention for conspiracism as a form of public opinion is rising. Based on mainly qualitative studies, many times it is argued that conspiracism is associated with a highly critical view pertaining to science. The research suggests that conspiracists tend to distrust scientific experts, tend to view scientific outcomes as corrupted, and tend to see the scientific enterprise as basically flawed. Yet, this same literature suggests that conspiracists typically embrace (their own) scientific methods as the only way of finding out the truth. This paper investigates the consequences of conspiracism for the legitimacy of science, and tries to explain them. Based on representative survey data gathered in 2014 in the US, in this paper, I find distinct two distinct types of trust in science. One pertaining to the trust in scientific institutions. And one pertaining to trust in scientific inquiry as the only way of obtaining the truth. I furthermore show that whereas support for conspiracy theories indeed detracts from institutional trust in science, it simultaneously boosts trust in scientific methods. In the paper, I test two theories explaining these patterns. The first focuses on reflexive modern motivations for conspiracists to embrace scientific methods and distrust scientific institutions. The second theorie, which is empirically corroborated, argues that it is feelings of cultural discontents that explain this typical constellation of scientific attitudes among conspiracists. At the end of our paper, I elaborate on the theoretical relevance of these findings.