Anti-scientists believe that their knowledge is among the highest, but it is actually the lowest

People with the greatest opposition to the scientific consensus have the lowest levels of objective science knowledge but the highest levels of self-rated knowledge, according to new research published in Science advances. The findings are consistent with the Dunning-Kruger effect, a well-documented phenomenon in which people who lack skills or knowledge overestimate their abilities.

“I’m interested in the public’s understanding of science because it’s so important to social and environmental well-being,” said study author Nick Light, an assistant professor of marketing at Portland State University. “When people act in ways that go against good science, people get sick, lose their homes, lose money, get displaced, or die (as in the case of covid, natural disasters, etc.). The better we understand why people behave in ways that run counter to the scientific consensus. posits, good scientists or policy makers can design interventions to help people.”

In two preliminary studies, which involved 3,249 American adults recruited from Amazon Mechanical Turk and Prolific Academic, participants were randomly assigned to indicate their level of support or opposition to one of seven scientific issues: climate change, genetically modified foods, nuclear power, vaccination . , evolution, the big bang, or homeopathic medicine. Participants were asked to rate their understanding of the topic on a 7-point scale, ranging from “vague understanding” to “complete understanding”.

To assess their scientific knowledge, participants then answered 34 randomly assigned true-false questions. The questions covered a wide range of scientific topics, including “True or False? Earth’s core is too hot,” “True or False? All insects have eight legs,” and “True or False?” Venus is the closest planet to the Sun.”

Light and his research team found that people who were more opposed to the scientific consensus on their given topic were more likely to claim to have a “full understanding” of it. But those who were more opposed to the scientific consensus tended to score worse on tests of objective science knowledge.

“Scientists are constantly debating the best ways to explain the world around us,” Light told Cypost. “Sometimes, however, the evidence is so strong or consistent that most of them agree on something. This is what we call the scientific consensus. In this paper, we find that people with attitudes against scientific consensus think they know a lot about scientific issues, but in fact At least you know.”

The researchers also found some evidence that political polarization may weaken these relationships. For politically polarized issues, the relationship between scientific consensus and opposition to objective knowledge was not as negative.

“The main caveat is that although this pattern of effects appears to be quite general, we do not find it for all cases,” Light said. “A notable example is climate change. Our next steps involve digging deeper into psychology to try to figure out why we don’t find these effects for some problems.

In a third study, involving 1,173 American adults, participants were given the opportunity to bet on their ability to score above average on an objective science knowledge test. Consistent with previous studies, Light and his colleagues found that participants with greater opposition to the scientific consensus tended to earn less due to overconfidence in knowledge.

In the fourth study, which included 501 participants, the researchers examined whether knowledge overconfidence was associated with willingness to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The study was conducted in July 2020, before the vaccine became publicly available. Participants were asked their willingness to get vaccinated in the future and then rated their understanding of how the COVID-19 vaccine works.

Participants then completed a 23-question test of scientific knowledge, including six items about COVID-19, such as “True or false? COVID-19 is a type of bacteria” and “True or false? COVID-19 is transmitted by domestic fish.”

Light and his colleagues found that participants who were more opposed to getting vaccinated tended to report more understanding of how the COVID-19 vaccine works, but their general knowledge of science and COVID-19 was worse.

A fifth study of 695 participants conducted in September 2020 found a similar pattern of results regarding COVID-19 mitigation policies. Controlling for political identity also yielded results.

The researchers said the findings have some practical implications for science communicators and policy makers.

“Given that the most extreme opponents of the scientific consensus tend to be those most confident in their knowledge, evidence-based educational interventions are less likely to be effective for this audience,” Light and his colleagues wrote. “For example, the Ad Council conducted one of the largest public education campaigns in history in an effort to convince people to get the COVID-19 vaccine. If people with strong antivaccine beliefs think they know everything there is to know about vaccines and COVID-19, the campaign will convince them to do so. Not likely.

Nicholas Light, Philip M. Fernbach, Nathaniel Rabb, Mugur V. Gena, and Steven A. Sloman wrote, “Knowledge overconfidence is associated with anti-consensus views on controversial scientific issues”.

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