Democracy and Mass Skepticism of Science

57 Pages Posted: 17 May 2021 Last revised: 22 Nov 2021

See all articles by Junyan Jiang

Junyan Jiang

Columbia University

Kin-Man Wan

City University of Hong Kong, Department of Public and International Affairs

Date Written: November 21, 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

Suggested Citation

Jiang, Junyan and Wan, Kin-Man, Democracy and Mass Skepticism of Science (November 21, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Junyan Jiang (Contact Author)

Columbia University ( email )

7th Floor, International Affairs Bldg.
420 W. 118th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States

Kin-Man Wan

City University of Hong Kong, Department of Public and International Affairs ( email )

Hong Kong

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