Shifting Perceptions of Scientists and the Climate Change Debate in the United States

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 11:15
Oral Presentation
Thomas SAFFORD, University of New Hampshire, USA
Lawrence HAMILTON, University of New Hampshire, USA
Debates about climate change in the United States have polarized the American public. Numerous studies have shown the increasing politicization of this issue, and in particular, skepticism about climate science among those with conservative ideological views. These trends appear to have eroded confidence in science more broadly, raising questions about the social role of scientists. Nonetheless, how Americans perceive scientists, and whether those views shape the climate debate, is less clear. Drawing upon data from two surveys, the national POLES survey and the Granite State Poll in New Hampshire, this study examines how Americans perceive scientists and climate change. These surveys questioned respondents about the way scientists develop findings and communicate them to the public. Results show that more than 40% of Americans believe that scientists sometimes adjust their findings to get the answers they want. A similar number also indicate that scientists need to do a better job informing the public about their results. Regression analyses were then used to establish how views about the practice of science relate to climate beliefs. These models controlled for known predictors of climate-related beliefs (gender, age, and political ideology). Two dummy variables were created to determine whether beliefs about the integrity of scientists and science communication predict views about climate change. Results confirm that women, younger people, and those with liberal political views are more likely to believe climate change is occurring and is the result of human activities. However, individuals who believe scientists adjust their findings and those who think scientists need to improve their communication are less likely to think that climate change is caused mainly by human activities. These results suggest that debates about climate change may not only revolve around Americans’ beliefs about climate science but also their views about scientists themselves and the practice of science.