Democracy and Mass Skepticism of Science
70 Pages Posted: 17 May 2021 Last revised: 3 Jun 2021
Date Written: June 3, 2021
Ever since the Age of Enlightenment, democracy and science have been seen as two aspects of modernity that mutually reinforce each other. This article highlights a tension between the two by arguing that certain aspects of contemporary democracy may aggravate the anti-intellectual tendency of the mass public and potentially hinder scientific progress. Analyzing a new global survey of public opinion on science with empirical strategies that exploit cross-country and cross-cohort variations in experience with democracy, we show that less educated citizens in democracies are considerably less trustful of science than their counterparts in non-democracies. Further analyses suggest that, instead of being the result of stronger religiosity or lower science literacy, the increase in skepticism in democracies is mainly driven by a shift in the mode of legitimation, which reduces states' ability and willingness to act as key public advocates for science. These findings help shed light on the institutional sources of "science-bashing" behaviors in many long-standing democracies.
Keywords: science, democracy, institution, anti-intellectualism, constitution, legitimacy
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