For many years, the US National Science Foundation, more recently with the help of the General Social Survey, has asked the public the same true or false question about evolution: “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.” And for many years, the responses to this question have been dismal. In 2006, 2008, and 2010, for instance, less than half of the public correctly answered “true.”
In 2012, however, the NSF and GSS conducted an experiment to try to better understand why people fare so badly on this evolution question. For half of survey respondents, the words “according to the theory of evolution” were added to the beginning of the statement above. And while only 48 percent gave the correct answer to the unaltered question, an impressive 72 percent correctly answered the new, prefaced version.
This work points up the ability of people to ignore facts if it conflicts with their world views. This is seen when we use the word ‘believe’ when discussing science questions: “Do you believe in evolution?”, etc.
I try to never use the word believe when discussing the facts of science, such as evolution or climate change.
Science is not about belief. It is about acknowledging facts. As this study shows, both conservatives and liberals acknowledge the same facts, even as they assert different beliefs. Liberals got the science wrong also when their beliefs got in the way.
If someone refuses to acknowledge that the world is getting warmer, then they are scientifically illiterate and not really worth having as part of a science discussion.
If they do acknowledge facts, then we can begin to discuss why and what might be done.
The discussion on climate change cannot happen if it starts from what people believe. It will only happen when more conservative leaders acknowledge the world is getting warmer.