COS 63-4
The association between denials of evolution and of climate change

Wednesday, August 13, 2014: 9:00 AM
Regency Blrm E, Hyatt Regency Hotel
Joshua Rosenau, National Center for Science Education, Oakland, CA

Science denial is a potent force in US and global politics. Understanding how social identity shapes different varieties of science denial, and the ways that one form of science denial can lead the way for other denialist beliefs, is crucial for scientists, educators, science communicators, and policymakers. Ecologists in particular are confronted with two of the most potent forms of science denial: creationism and climate change denial. To understand the forces driving those particular forms of denial, and the ways in which one form of science denial can open the door to another, I examine public polling from the Pew Center archives which asked 1000 respondents separate questions relating to evolution and climate change. A structural equation model accounting for age, sex, educational attainment, political ideology, religious ideology, and religious intensity allowed causal modeling of these demographic factors on respondents’ views of the science, and covariation of acceptance and rejection of evolution and climate change independent of other demographic factors.


Those who accept evolution were much less likely to adopt a climate change denialist position (X-squared = 54.4932, df = 2, p-value < 1e-10). The SEM revealed a substantial and statistically significant association between denial of evolution and of climate change, even after accounting for potentially confounding demographic factors. At the same time, factors driving acceptance of evolution and climate change differ noticeably.  Political ideology is the largest factor explaining acceptance or rejection of climate change, while it is a minor factor with evolution.  Measures of religious identity are major predictors for evolution acceptance, but religious intensity is not a statistically significant predictor of climate change views, and the effect of religious ideology is half as strong for climate change as for evolution.  Educational attainment is not a statistically significant predictor in explaining climate change acceptance, but its effect is as large as either religious intensity or religious ideology in explaining evolution acceptance. Science educators and communicators should be aware that rejection of one component of science can predispose audiences to reject others, and understand the role of social identities—especially religious and political—in shaping audiences’ responses to scientific messages.