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Does Activism in Social Science Explain Conservatives’ Distrust of Scientists?



Data from the General Social Survey suggest that conservatives have become less trustful of scientists since the 1970s. Gauchat argues that this is because conservatives increasingly see scientific findings as threatening to their worldview. However, the General Social Survey data concern trust in scientists, not in science. We suggest that conservatives’ diminishing trust in scientists reflects the fact that scientists in certain fields, particularly social science, have increasingly adopted a liberal-activist stance, seeking to influence public policy in a liberal direction.
Does Activism in Social Science Explain Conservatives
Distrust of Scientists?
Nathan Cofnas
&Noah Carl
Michael A. Woodley of Menie
#Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017
Abstract Data from the General Social Survey suggest that conservatives have be-
come less trustful of scientists since the 1970s. Gauchat argues that this is because
conservatives increasingly see scientific findings as threatening to their worldview.
However, the General Social Survey data concern trust in scientists,notinscience.We
suggest that conservativesdiminishing trust in scientists reflects the fact that scientists
in certain fields, particularly social science, have increasingly adopted a liberal-activist
stance, seeking to influence public policy in a liberal direction.
Keywords Public understanding of science .Politics and science .Trust in science .
Conservatism .Political polarization
ConservativesDistrust of Science?
Gauchat (2012) reports that confidence in science among American conservatives has
been falling steadily for four decades. In 1974, General Social Survey (GSS) respon-
dents who identified as conservative had the highest rates of trust in science of the three
major political demographics49%, compared with 48% for liberals and 45% for
moderates. Moderatestrust in science dropped precipitously in the late 1970s and early
1980s, and remained fairly stable thereafter. Liberalstrust in science remained stable
throughout the whole period. Conservativestrust, however, steadily decreased. By
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DOI 10.1007/s12108-017-9362-0
*Nathan Cofnas
Balliol College, Oxford OX1 3BJ, UK
Nuffield College, Oxford, UK
Center Leo Apostel for Interdisciplinary Studies, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussel, Belgium
2010, conservatives had the lowest rates of trust in science38%, compared with 40%
for moderates and 50% for liberals.
What accounts for conservativesapparent skepticism toward science? There are
two main schools of thought (Nisbet et al. 2015). The first says that conservatives are
inherently more skeptical of scientific explanation. This may be because conservative
ideology seeks to preserve traditional social structures and institutions, and B[t]he
dynamism of science,^with Bits constant onslaught on old orthodoxies, its rapid
generation of new technological possibilities[,] presents an obvious challenge to more
static worldviews^(Mooney 2005:5; partially quoted in Gauchat 2012:170). Addition-
ally, the dogmatism, need for closure, and fear of uncertainty that characterize conser-
vatives (Jost et al. 2003;Kruglanski2004; Nam et al. 2013) may prevent them from
revising their prior beliefs in response to new information, including scientific discov-
eries (see Nisbet et al. 2015).
Those who attribute to conservatives a greater inherent psychological disposition to
reject science cite empirical findings suggesting that conservatives are less tolerant of
ideologically threatening information. For example, supporters of Republican presi-
dents are less likely to agree to write an essay arguing in favor of Democratic presidents
than vice versa (Nam et al. 2013). Nam et al. interpret this as reflecting conservatives
greater drive to avoid dissonance-arousing situations. According to Nam et al., this
psychological trait helps explain why (in their view) Bconservatives are...more likely to
hold false beliefs concerning a number of public policy comparison with
liberals.^Also, conservatives are slightly more likely than liberals to adjust their factual
beliefs to align with their moral views (Liu and Ditto 2012): Those who oppose stem
cell research and encouraging teenagers to use condoms tend to deny that stem cell
research will lead to medical benefits and that condoms are effective. Liberals do not
show the same level of bias when asked about the deterrent power of capital punish-
ment and the effectiveness of forceful interrogation of terrorist suspects. Those high in
right-wing authoritarianism (RWA)which is correlated, though not identical, with
conservatismmanifest double standards when reasoning about political issues
(Altemeyer 1996).
The second school of thought says that conservatives are not inherently more biased
or inclined to reject science than liberals. Rather, conservatives and liberals are equally
prone to engage in motivated reasoning to discount worldview-threatening scientific
evidence (Brandt et al. 2014;Carletal.2016; Chambers et al. 2015;Crawford2012;
Crawford et al. 2013;Crawfordetal.2015;Grahametal.2012;Kahan2013). It just so
happens that the most salient scientific controversies in recent timesevolution,
climate change, on theories that threaten the worldview of conservatives
rather than liberals (see Nisbet et al. 2015).
Indeed, recent work in political psychology (cited above) suggests that liberals and
conservatives are equally prone to engage in biased reasoning. Both liberals and
conservatives employ double standards when reasoning about policy issues, but only
when they accept the premise upon which a political dilemma is based (Crawford
2012). For example, conservatives (defined by Crawford as those high on RWA) may
support mandating Christian prayer in public schools, though they object to laws
mandating Islamic prayer even in Islamic countries. Liberals reject the premise that
mandatory school prayer is acceptable at all. So liberals reject school prayer across the
board, and do not employ a double standard in this case (Crawford 2012). However,
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when Christian subjects are asked whether they support creating space in public
schools for Bvoluntary prayer,^both conservatives and liberals reveal a double stan-
dard. As before, conservatives are more likely to support creating a space in schools for
Christian prayer than for Islamic prayer. Liberals, since they accept the legitimacy of
voluntary prayer, are more likely to support a space for voluntary Islamic prayer
(Crawford 2012). Previous studies of the relationship between political orientation
and bias tended to ask subjects to reason about dilemmas whose premises were not
acceptable to liberals (e.g., mandatory school prayer). That is why these studies falsely
suggested that conservatives but not liberals are biased.
If conservatives do not tend to be more biased than liberals, why have they become
increasingly less trustful of science, as Gauchat (2012) reports? We argue that there has
been a reduction in trust in scientistsnot in science itselfamong educated conser-
vatives, and that this is due partly to the increasing liberal-activist stance among certain
elements of the scientific establishment in recent years.
Limitations of Gauchat (2012): Trust in Science Versus Trust
in the Scientific Community
How did Gauchat (2012) measure Btrust in science^? GSS interviewers preface ques-
tions concerning trust of social institutions with the following:
I am going to name some institutions in this country. As far as the people running
these institutions are concerned, would you say you have a great deal of confi-
dence, only some confidence, or hardly any confidence at all in them? (quoted in
Gauchat 2012:172)
Respondents are then asked about Bthe Scientific Community.^Gauchat counts only
the answer Ba great deal^as indicating trust in science (172).
In an endnote, Gauchat acknowledges that he uses the term Bscience^to
refer to a group of people, the organizations they belong to, and the professional
boundary that central institutions in society agree is a source of credible
expertise....Terms like scientific establishment or organized science might be
more appropriate, but these ideas are often simply referred to as Bscience.^
(184n2; see also 18283)
However, the people and institutions responsible for conducting science are not equiv-
alent to science, regardless of how the word may sometimes be used. (a) Trust in scientific
authorities is separate from (b) belief that the scientific method (whatever it is) is the most
reliable way to gain knowledge of the world. It is important to note that neither (a) nor (b)
implies the other. A person might not believe that the scientific method is the best way to
learn about the world, but support scientific authorities on the basis that they advocate
policies with which the person happens to agree. Conversely, someone might strongly
believe in the scientific method, but doubt that mainstream scientific authorities are living up
to its requirements. This means that falling conservative trust in Bthe scientific community^
may not reflect antipathy toward the scientific method or resistance to ideology-threatening
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scientific findings. Instead, it may betoken conservative skepticism of mainstream scientists
whom they perceive to be pushing a liberal agenda.
Prima facie evidence in favor of this last possibility is that conservativesloss of trust
in the scientific community has been driven largely by educated conservatives. Gauchat
(2012) finds that conservatives with high school, bachelors, and graduate degrees all
became less trustful of science from 1974 to 2010, but those with bachelorsdegrees
experienced a greater decline in trust than those with only high school degrees. He
offers the following interpretation of these findings: B[T]hey imply that conservative
discontent with science was not attributable to the uneducated but to rising distrust
among educated conservatives....[E]ducated conservatives appear to be more culturally
engaged with the ideology and...more politically sophisticated^(180). An alternative
or complimentaryhypothesis, as noted, is that the scientific establishment has taken
an increasingly liberal-activist stance over the last four decades.
The Politicization of Science: Another Reason Why Conservatives Distrust
Following Mooney (2005), Gauchat argues that conservatives have become less trustful
of science because they are threatened by recent scientific discoveries. We offer an
alternative explanation for the GSS data: Educated conservativesincreasing skepticism
of scientific institutions is partly a reaction to the politicizationnamely, the liberali-
zationof these institutions.
We begin by noting that conservatives are not uniformly more distrusting of all types
of scientists. McCright et al. (2013) do find that self-identified conservatives report less
general trust in scientists, measured by subjectstrust in scientists to BCreate knowledge
that is unbiased and accurate,^BCreate knowledge that is useful,^BAdvise government
officials on policy,^and BInform the public on important issues.^However, this is
driven by conservativesdistrust of Bimpact scientists^who are concerned with
Bunderstanding human impacts on the environment and human health^(2). Conserva-
tives actually report greater trust than liberals in Bproduction scientists,^whose work
focuses on invention and innovation for the sake of economic production. So, for
example, liberals have greater trust in climatologists who study climate change and
pollution, whereas conservatives have greater trust in food and materials scientists. This
raises the possibility that contemporary conservatives are not opposed to, or skeptical
of, science per se. Rather, they lack trust in impact scientists whom they see as seeking
to influence policy in a liberal direction.
We want to decide between two competing hypotheses. The first is Gauchats:
Conservatives have become less trustful of science because recent scientific discoveries
threaten their worldview and undermine the justification for conservative policies. The
second is our alternative hypothesis: In recent decades, impact scientists and scientific
institutions have distorted or misrepresented science in order to advance liberal political
causes. Increasing conservative skepticism of certain kinds of scientists and institutions
(not of science per se) is a reaction to that change within the scientific community.
What sort of evidence is relevant to deciding between these two hypotheses? We
need to determine whether scientists (qua scientists) have increasingly adopted a
liberal-activist stance in recent years. The mere proportion of liberals among scientists
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is irrelevant to this question. Both hypotheses under consideration predict that scientists
have become more liberalGauchats, because scientists do not want to be associated
with an anti-science political philosophy; ours, because certain sectors of the scientific
community have become more hostile toward conservatives. Even if it is the case that
scientists are increasingly donating to liberal causes, voting for the Democratic Party, or
self-identifying as liberals, this does not support our contention that scientists distort
science for the sake of liberal political aims.
In this article, we provide examples of prominent, mainstream scientists and scien-
tific institutions putting a spin on scientific findings to influence policy, or the public
perception of science, in order to advance liberal causes. To reiterate, we aim to show
not just that scientists are liberal, but that they use their authority as scientists, and the
prestige of scientific institutions, to influence social policy in a liberal direction.In
political debates, contemporary scientists often serve as liberal activists. We also
provide evidence that, in impact sciences, researchers face more hurdles when pub-
lishing results that conflict with liberal, rather than conservative, orthodoxies.
Diversity Is a Strength (Even when ItsNot)
In 2007, former president of the American Political Science Association Robert Putnam
reported that
inhabitants of [racially] diverse communities tend to withdraw from collective
life, to distrust their neighbours, regardless of the colour of their skin, to withdraw
even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders,
to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often,
to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more, but have less faith that
they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the
television. (Putnam 2007:15051)
He explained in an interview with the Financial Times:
The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined. And its not just that we
dont trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we donttrust
people who do look like us. [In racially diverse communities, people] donttrust
the local mayor, they dont trust the local paper, they dont trust other people and
they dont trust institutions. The only thing theres more of is protest marches and
TV watching. (quoted in Lloyd 2006)
Putnam said that Bhe had delayed publishing his research until he could develop
proposals to compensate for the negative effects of diversity.^In his words, it Bwould
have been irresponsible to publish without that^(Lloyd 2006). So he refrained from
publishing empirical findings that contradicted a key tenet of contemporary liberalism
(Bdiversity is a strength^) until he could think up a way to make it politically palatable
to liberals. (Note the disturbing implicationif he never had found a way to put a
liberal spin on his findings, then it never would have been responsible to publish them.)
In his 2007 article, Putnam speculates that B[i]n the long run immigration and diversity
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are likely to have important cultural, economic, fiscal, and developmental benefits^
(137). He of course has his reasons for making this prediction. But it must be admitted
that predictions about future social trends are notoriously less certain than verifiable
empirical findings about the present. Putnam chose to be optimistic about the future of
diversity, assuming that all ethnic groups will learn to identify with each by creating a
Bbroader sense of we^(139) just as white Americans of different European back-
grounds expanded their parochial identities to encompass all Whites.
In an amicus curiae brief for Fisher v. University of Texasacaseconcerningthe
constitutionality of race-conscious admissions designed to promote diversity
Thernstrom et al. (2013) wrote that B[w]hat Putnam found certainly contradicted the
more naive forms of contact theory^(i.e., the theory that the negative consequences of
racial diversity are ameliorated by interracial contact). In response, Putnam submitted
an amicus brief in which he accused Thernstrom et al. of Bselectively cit[ing]^him
because they did not mention his other findings, namely: B[W]hile increased diversity
may present challenges in the short to medium term, greater diversity can lead to
significant benefits to society in the medium to long term^(Putnam 2013). But these
other claimsthat despite challenges, diversity will eventually bring significant bene-
fitssimply represent the liberal position on diversity. Note that Thernstrom et al. did
not claim that Putnams findings ruled out the possibility that diversity will bring
benefits, just that they contradict Bthe more naive forms of contact theory.^But
Putnamand, as we will see, other social scientists, toopresented his liberal opinion
to the court as simply a scientific finding.
Several professional organizations including the American Anthropological Associ-
ation, the American Political Science Association, and the American Sociological
Association also submitted an amicus brief for the case. The brief asserts: BBuilding
on a well-established body of literature, [social scientific] research underscores the
Universitys compelling interest in diversity....Among [the] benefits [is]...greater civic
engagement...^(American Educational Research Association et al. 2013). It addresses
Putnams(2007) study oncein a footnoteand faults Thernstrom et al. for
Bignor[ing] methodological limits to the study (such as omitting variables dealing with
intergroup contact and with racial segregation), and fail[ing] to mention that none of the
data are drawn from higher education settings.^As noted, the only conclusion
Thernstrom et al. drew from Putnam (2007) was that it contradicts Bthe more naive
forms of contact theory^a supremely cautious interpretation of the data.
Our point is not that diversity is undesirable, or that Putnamspessimistic findings are
irrefragable (see Abascal and Baldassarri 2015) and that they necessarily apply to the
university environment. Our point is that prominent scientists and scientific organizations
are not committed to presenting research in a political neutral way, and they will distort it in
order to advance liberal causes. One of the most prominent social scientists in the world
openly admitted that he refrained from publishing empirical data that threatened an
important liberal valueBdiversity is a strength^until he could think up a way to
neutralize that implication. Ultimately, he concluded that, while all the observable data
suggest that diversity causes social problems, in the futurethe future which, of course, has
not been observeddiversity will lead to great benefits. Now if anyone cites his study to
support the claim that diversity is associated with problems, but fails to mention the alleged
future benefits, he accuses them of Bselectively cit[ing]^his Bfindings.^And although his
study met the highest standards of social scientific research, the ASA and other
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scientific organizations, for dubious reasons, proclaimed it irrelevant to a debate about the
benefits of diversity.
Thousands of Studies Support the Liberal Theory of Aggression?
A tenet of liberalism is that violence is a learned behavior. A favorite culprit is the
mediapeople learn to be violent from seeing violence on television and in movies and
playing violent video games.
In 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) testified to Congress that
Bmore than 3500^studies have investigated the link between exposure to media
violence and actual violent behavior. BAll but 18 have shown a positive correlation.^
To make the point dramatically, it asserted that the strength of the correlation is Blarger
than that of condom non-use and sexually transmitted HIV, lead exposure and lower
I.Q., passive tobacco smoke and lung cancer or calcium intake and bone mass,
relationships which pediatricians accept as fact...^(American Academy of Pediatrics
Also in 2000, six scientific and medical organizationsthe AAP, the American
Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Psychological Association
(APA), the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physi-
cians, and the American Psychiatric Associationpresented a joint statement to
Congress on the link between exposure to media violence and aggression in children.
According to the statement, Bwell over 1000 studies^have led the Bpublic health
community [to conclude] that viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in
aggressive attitudes, values and behavior, particularly in children. Its effects are
measurable and long-lasting^(American Academy of Pediatrics et al. 2000).
It seems fair to say that these major scientific organizations have put their credibility
on the line over this issue. The link is as great as that between lead exposure and lower
IQ, or second-hand smoke and cancer? Over 1000maybe even 3500studies
support a single conclusion, which is not contradicted by a single study worth men-
tioning? Well, it turns out that these organizations never conducted reviews of the
literature about which they were testifying. A bit of investigation would have revealed
an important fact: There were not 1000 studieslet alone more than 3500investigat-
ing the relationship between exposure to media violence and aggression. It is simply
false. In an extensive review of the literature, Freedman (2002) found around 200
studies that address the link (see Freedman 2002:13). Of these studies, more than half
report findings that are inconsistent with there being a causal link. Of those whose
findings are not inconsistent, there are other explanations for the results besides the
causal hypothesis. In many cases, researchers interpreted a transient increase in general
arousal from watching exciting (violent) films as elevated Baggression.^The ways in
which aggression is measured (e.g., hitting a Bobo doll, asking a child Bwhether he
would pop a balloon if one were present^) are often questionable for a number of
Media researcher John Murray takes credit for Binadvertently^creating the 1000+
studies myth when, some years earlier, while working on the National Institute of
Mental Healths review of this issue, he estimated that around B2,500 publications of all
kinds [were] relevant to the review^(Freedman 2002:24). He was referring to all
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publications, including magazine articles, theoretical papers, and papers on topics that
were only tangentially related to the subject. This offhand statement then morphed in a
bizarre claim that thousands of studies implicate television watching in aggressive
behavior, which became the cornerstone of several scientific organizationstestimony
to Congress.
Freedman does not believe that exposure to media violence causes aggression, and
our point is not that he is necessarily correct. Our point is that several of the most
important scientific organizations in the United States presented testimony to Con-
gresstestimony that was intended to influence policythat misrepresented science in
a way that favors a liberal approach to dealing with violence.
Freedman (2002:16) suggests some possible reasons why the APA testified that
there was a scientific consensus on this issue. Maybe it Bwas worried about its public
image^or wanted to appease members of Congress who blame television violence
for crime and who also control funding for science. Another possibility, which Freed-
man does not consider, is political. Namely, it is a tenet of liberalismarguably it is the
essence of liberalismthat violence and bad behavior are caused by bad social
conditioning. Sowell (1987) argues that belief or nonbelief in the perfectibility of
people is what distinguishes liberals and conservatives, respectively. If aggression is
not the result of social influences, if it appears without social prompting, this threatens a
tenet of liberalism.
Tolerance of Liberal Activism in Social Science
The ASA defines Bsociology^as Bthe study of society^including peoples
social lives, social aggregations, and so on (Smith 2014:56). There is nothing
in the definition about an ultimate purpose of the discipline. Smith (2014),
however, argues that American sociology is guided by a Bsacred project^a
political end for which sociological investigation is undertaken and findings
interpreted and disseminated. The sacred project involves reorganizing society
to fight oppression, inequality, poverty, hierarchy, and the like. Its ideological
orientation arose out of the Social Gospel, civil rights, feminism, Marxism, and
other progressive movements. Smith reviews extensive evidence that sociology
books published by major academic presses, articles in top journals, events
sponsored by the ASA, and the three most popular introductory textbooks in
the field overwhelmingly promote the sacred project.
As candidate for President-Elect of the American Sociological Association in 2002,
Michael Burawoy wrote a personal statement to describe himself to voting members.
He declared himself an advocate of Bpublic sociology,^which is Ba sociology that
transcends the academy^to effect (liberal) social change (see Martin 2016). He was
ultimately elected. Not only is public sociology tolerated by sociologists, but someone
Murray himself strongly supports a causal link. In a 1-star review on, he calls Freedmans book
Ba biased attack on the science of psychology, the profession of communications, and the common sense of
any educated reader.^In response to a request for sources that refute Freedman (2002), Murray sent us an
unpublished paper that did not cite any of Freedmans work. In response to a follow-up request, he referred us
to a special issue of the Hofstra Law Review (Summer 1994), which was published before the book in
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who specifically plays up his commitment to this form of liberal activism was elected
by sociologists to represent their field. Clearly, no conservative would ever have been
nominated for the position, let alone elected.
Variance in mathematics ability appears to be larger for males than females (Benbow
et al. 2000; Wai et al. 2010). When president of Harvard Larry Summers mentioned this
fact in connection with the underrepresentation of women in quantitative fields, the
anthropologist J. Lorand Matory and the sociologist Theda Skocpol introduced motions
to censor him, which were approved by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (Marra and
Polsky 2005). He was ultimately forced to resign. Many prominent psychologists had
previously endorsed the reality of biologically based gender differences in mathemat-
ical ability, and so presumably agreed with Summerss remarks. Diane Halpern, for
example, who was president of the APA in 2004, reviews a great deal of evidence
showing that males tend to score higher on tests of mathematical aptitude than females,
especially at the high end (though she does not come to a definitive conclusion about
the cause of the differences) (Halpern 2000). In 2012, she commented sympathetically
on Summerss remarks (Halpern 2012). Nevertheless, Summers received virtually no
meaningful support from the institutions of science. This case illustrated that main-
stream scientific institutions are unwilling to stand up for dispassionate reporting of
scientific findings in the face of liberal activist pressure.
The idea that all racial groups have identical distributions of innate intelligence is a
central tenet of contemporary liberalism. Many prominent social scientists openly
express the view that it is morally wrong to conduct scientific investigations that
threaten to uncover innate racial differences (see Cofnas 2016; Gottfredson 2005;
Sesardic 2005). Gardner (2001:8), for example, writes that he does Bnot condone
investigations of racial differences in intelligence, because [he] think[s] that the results
of these studies are likely to be incendiary^(note the implication that he thinks
differences are likely to exist) (quoted in Cofnas 2016:485). Sternberg (2005:300)
writes that good science is characterized by Btaste in the selection of problems to
solve,^and it is in bad taste to study the genetic basis of group differences in
intelligence. Those who argue in favor of studying group differences (including both
liberal and conservative scientists) never argue the oppositethat we should avoid
research that threatens to undermine the theory of genetically based differences.Rather,
they just argue that Bthe scientific truth must be pursued^(Ceci and Williams 2009)and
Brational discussion of the offensive is okay^(Flynn 2007).
How Hard Is It for Conservative Social Scientists to Publish?
Social and personality psychologists are paradigm impact scientists. Theyoften work on
politically relevant issues like discrimination, racism, and sexism, and make policy
recommendationsvirtually always supporting the liberal perspective (Redding
2001:2068, Table 1; 2012)on the basis of their research. The APA sometimes makes
official statements on policy issues that are questions of values rather than fact, always
supporting the liberal position (Redding 2001, Table 1).
The ratio of liberals to conservatives among psychologists has increased significantly
over the past few decades (Redding 2012:513). Today, only 6% identify as Bconservative
overall.^On social issues, only 3.9% identify as conservative, and 5.5% as
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moderate (Inbar and Lammers 2012). As noted earlier, the mere fact that liberals
outnumber conservatives in a field is no proof of bias (though it does create a
significant risk of confirmation bias; Duarte et al. 2015). Do psychologists conduct
science in a politically neutral way in spite of their personal politics? In their own
In a survey of social and personality psychologists, Inbar and Lammers
(2012) found that one-out-of-six would be Bsomewhat (or more)^disposed
not to invite a known political conservative to a symposium, and to reject
papers written from a conservative perspective. One-out-of-four would be dis-
posed to reject conservative grant applications, and one-out-of-three would
favor a liberal job candidate. This is remarkable given the stigma attached to
discriminating against people on the basis of their beliefs. One would have to
assume that willingness to discriminate will be underreported in a survey like
this (see Honeycutt and Freberg 2017). But lets take the most conservative
estimate with regard to peer review for papers. Often, to get a paper published,
the journal editor plus three referees must accept it.
If one-out-of-six editors/
referees openly discriminates against conservative submissions, that means there
is a less than 50% chance(5/6)
that neither the editor nor any of the
referees will be open discriminators against conservative papers. Since one-
out-of-three psychologists say they would discriminate against conservative job
candidates, there is just a 20% chance that the paper will be handled only by
people who do not openly admit to discriminating against conservatives in at
least some contexts.
Honeycutt and Freberg (2017)surveyeduniversityfacultyin76disciplines
about their willingness to discriminate against conservatives or liberals. They
found that the vast majority of faculty members in all disciplines except
agriculture (a paradigm production science) identified as liberal. The same
proportion of conservatives and liberals expressed willingness to discriminate
against those with opposing political views. While conservatives may be equal-
ly inclined to discriminate, in Honeycutt and FrebergswordstheyBclearly lack
the means and opportunity for execution,^at least in impact sciences like
psychology and sociology. Only 4% of social and personality psychologists in
Inbar and Lammerss survey identified as conservative. Assuming that conser-
vatives are just as willing to discriminate as liberals, 1.33% (i.e., 4% × 1/3) of
social and personality psychologists are conservatives who openly acknowledge
that they would discriminate against liberals in some context. If a journal
submission goes through an editor and three referees, it has an almost 95%
chance of not being handled by a conservative who discriminates against
Recent examples of high-profile frauds in social science lend credence to the idea
that reviewers and journal editors apply much less scrutiny to papers reporting liberal-
Some journals use two rather than three referees, or will accept a paper if two-out-of-three write a favorable
report. Sometimes more than one editor is involved in assessing submissions. If we assume that only one
editor and two referees handle a submission, it does not substantially change the estimated probability of
facing a discriminator.
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friendly results. Over the course of more than a decade, Diederik Stapel published
dozens of sensational papers on such topics as how easily Whites or men can be
prompted to discriminate against Blacks or women (Wright and DeLisi 2016:4). We
now know that these papers were fraudulent. As to how he was able to get away with
his fraud for such a long time, Stapel explained that he was giving social scientists what
they were Bwaiting for^given the state of the literature (Bhattacharjee 2013). It is
telling that he believed he would get away withand for a long time he did get away
withfalse liberal-friendly findings.
A couple years ago, LaCour and Green (2014) published their now-retracted paper,
BWhen Contact Changes Minds: An Experiment on Transmission of Support for Gay
Equality,^in Science. The first sentence of the paper read: BForemost among theories of
prejudice reduction is the contact hypothesis, which contends that outgroup hostility
diminishes when people from different grounds interact with one another^thus
characterizing anyone who opposes same-sex marriage (tendentiously called Bgay
equality^)ashavingBprejudice^and Bhostility^to homosexuals. The study claimed
that Ba 20-minute conversation with a gay canvasser^significantly increased accep-
tance of same-sex marriage 9 months later. This finding would imply that opponents of
same-sex marriage are on such weak intellectual footing that the most trivial exposure
to an opposing view is enough to permanently overturn their whole outlook. As we
now know, no study was ever conducted at all, and the fraud was found out due to the
tenacious efforts of two graduate students, David Broockman and Joshua Kalla. But the
editors and referees at Science, and the vast majority of the social scientists who
welcomed LaCour and Greens paper, accepted the unflattering claims about conser-
vatives at face value, seeing no need to probe more deeply.
Gauchat claimed that conservatives had less trust in Bscience^than liberals. We
observed that he found only that they have less trust in scientists,notscience, and that
there is independent evidence that conservative distrust is directed toward what
McCright et al. (2013) call Bimpact scientists^(e.g., social scientists) rather than
Bproduction scientists.^We provided evidence that leading social scientists and social
science organizations misrepresent research in order to influence public policy in a
liberal direction, tolerate censorship of work that challenges liberal beliefs, uncritically
accept dubious scientific findings that paint conservatives in an unflattering light, and
practice a variety of forms of discrimination against conservative scholars. Conserva-
tivesrecognition of this reality could explain why only 38% of conservatives in 2010,
compared with 50% of liberals, said that they had Bgreat deal of confidence^in Bthe
scientific community^(Gauchat 2012).
Losing the trust of conservatives may not be the only bad consequence of liberal
activism in social science. Science itself is harmed. As Weber (2009:146) warned,
Bwhenever the man of science introduces his personal value judgement, a full under-
standing of the facts ceases.^Today, social science is facing a Breplication crisis^(Open
Science Collaboration 2015): Many findings that were thought to be firmly established
are turning out not to be replicable when tested more carefully. It is noteworthy that a
significant number of the effects that are falling victim to the replication crisis either
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supported liberalism or were somehow unflattering to conservatives. BStereotype threat^
is perhaps the most striking example. Since stereotype threat was proposed to explain
gaps in the test scores of Blacks and Whites more than two decades ago (Steele and
Aronson 1995), it has become one of the primary liberal explanations for group differ-
ences in performance and has spawned many thousands of follow-up studies. Yet it may
turn out that it was all a mistakea consequence of publication bias and questionable
research methods (Ganley et al. 2013; Jussim 2015). Other studies that could not be
replicated, while not being explicitly anti-conservative, subtly support liberal ideas or cast
conservatives in a bad light. For example, studies that could not be replicated include one
where people Bincreased their endorsement of a current social systemafter being exposed
to money^and another where Americans became more conservative after seeing a U.S.
flag (Yong 2013). The former makes money seem to be bad thing, in line with liberal
skepticism of capitalism. The latter suggests that conservatism is a primal reaction to
tribal symbols. Virtually none of the non-replicable effects were at all favorable to
conservatism. This suggests that findings that might favor conservatism are scrutinized
much more carefully than those thatfavor liberalismif they are not censored or rejected
for explicitly moral reasons (e.g., Gardner 2001;Sternberg2005).
In the past few years, a number of social scientists, led by Jonathan Haidt, have
called upon social scientists to diversify the field and make a conscious effort to root
out liberal bias (Duarte et al. 2015). We conclude with a prediction: If social scientists
begin counteracting liberal activism, the trend of lowering conservative trust in scien-
tists will reverse.
Acknowledgements Thanks to Lawrence Nichols and Neven Sesardićfor helpful comments on earlier
drafts of this paper.
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... Science has always been political because the cultural authority of science links society's definitions of knowledge and political authority (Gauchat 2012). The extent to which Americans distrust science or scientists for information is the extent to which they must turn to other sources of epistemological authority, among them being sacred texts, community traditions, charismatic religious leaders, or political demagogues (Cofnas et al. 2018, Gorski & Perry 2022, O'Brien & Noy 2015. As religious and ideological identities began to realign with partisan identities, both Republican partisanship and political conservatism corresponded to declining trust in scientists (Gauchat 2012, Kozlowski 2021 and support for spending on science or environmental protection (Gauchat 2015, Johnson & Schwadel 2017. ...
... Similarly, weekly churchgoers' confidence in science's benefits remains far higher than their confidence in scientists themselves. This suggests that the politicization of science is related to affective polarization toward scientists and their perceived leftist opposition to religion or conservative moral values (Cofnas et al. 2018). ...
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Americans are increasingly polarized by a variety of metrics. The dimensions, extent, causes, and consequences of that polarization have been the subject of much debate. Yet despite the centrality of religion to early discussions, the analytical focus on America’s divides has largely shifted toward partisan identity, political ideology, race, and class interests. I show that religion remains powerfully implicated in all dimensions of American polarization, and sociologists must once again make religion more central to their analyses. After outlining research on American polarization, focusing on the role of religion, I survey findings within the burgeoning literatures on cultural transformation processes, (white) Christian nationalism, complex religion, and Americans’ attitudes toward science in order to underscore the centrality of ethno-religious identities, religious demography, and religious institutions for both shaping and exacerbating various forms of polarization. Lastly, I propose an agenda for elucidating religion’s ongoing role in understanding polarization beyond public opinion research at the macro-, meso-, and micro-levels. Though polarization research has been dominated by political scientists, leveraging religion in our analyses—not merely as a sui generis “variable,” but as a “site” of complex social behavior—facilitates novel sociological contributions to these literatures via our relative attention to multiple levels of analysis, theoretical eclecticism, and methodological fluidity.
... SCPC-based science communication that accounts for the (1) political dynamics of sciencerelated populism may aim to depoliticize societal discourse about science -or foster public acceptance that this discourse may necessarily be politicized (Pepermans & Maeseele, 2016). This could be achieved by increasing the transparency of scientific policy advice, which populists might see as part of a conspiracy between science and politics (see Prettner et al., 2021), or by asking scientists to separate as strictly as possible between their role as knowledge producers and their role as citizens who may advocate for certain policies, which science-related populists might see as immoral activism (Cofnas et al., 2018). ...
Populist and anti-intellectual sentiments pose a considerable challenge to science and science communication in many countries worldwide. One proliferating variant of such sentiments can be conceived as science-related populism. Science-related populism criticizes that scientists, scholars, and experts supposedly determine how society produces ‘true knowledge’ and communicates about it, because they are seen as members of an academic elite which allegedly applies unreliable methods, is ideologically biased – and ignores that the common sense of ordinary people ought to be superior to scientific knowledge. Accordingly, science-related populism assumes that the ordinary people, and not academic elites, should be in charge for the production and communication of ‘true knowledge’. Scholarly and journalistic accounts suggested that science-related populism can have negative implications for the legitimacy of scientific expertise in society and societal discourse about science. However, there has been neither a conceptual framework nor empirical methods and evidence to evaluate these accounts. This cumulative dissertation addresses this deficit: It includes five articles that present a conceptualization of science-related populism (Article I), a survey scale to measure science-related populist attitudes (Article II), empirical findings on these attitudes and related perceptions (Article II, Article III, and Article IV), and a discussion of populist demands toward science communication (Article V). The synopsis scrutinizes the arguments and results published in these articles in three ways: First, it discusses further theoretical considerations on science-related populism, advantages and challenges of its measurement, and broader contexts of empirical evidence on it. Second, it describes implications of science-related populism for communication and discourse about science, and proposes ways in which these implications can be addressed in science communication practice. Third, it considers how scholarship of science-related populism can advance social-scientific research on populism and anti-scientific resentments and could develop in the future.
... Distrust of scientists by conservatives also contributes to polarization, and is directly related to elite cues (McCright et al. 2013), which can be especially influential in climate change polarization because understanding it requires scientific literacy (Egan and Mullin 2017). Conservatives' distrust of scientists has been fueled in part by the ideological tension (McCright et al. 2013); in part by misinformation and special-interest-driven efforts to undermine scientific credibility (Mooney 2007); and likely also in part by the fact that climate scientists are overwhelmingly politically liberal (e.g., see Helmuth et al. 2016;Boykoff and Oonk 2018) and sometimes activist or partisan (Boykoff and Oonk 2018;Cologna et al. 2021)-part of a larger pattern in academia (e.g., see Duarte et al. 2015;Cofnas et al. 2018). Declining Republican and Independent opinions of universities since 2015 (Pew Research 2019b) may indicate that this distrust of scientists is deepening. ...
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U.S. political polarization is at a high point since the Civil War, and is a significant barrier to coordinated national action addressing climate change. To examine where common ground may exist, here we comprehensively review and characterize successes and failures of recent state-level decarbonization legislation, focusing especially on bipartisanship. We analyze 418 major state-government-enacted bills and 450 failed bills from 2015 to 2020, as well as the political contexts in which they were passed or defeated. We use bivariate analyses and regressions to explore correlations and partial correlations between the policy characteristics and political contexts of bills, and their passage or failure, their bipartisanship, and vote shares they received. Key results include (i) nearly one-third of these state-level decarbonization bills were passed by Republican-controlled governments. (ii) Bipartisan or Republican co-sponsors disproportionately passed financial incentives for renewable energy, and legislation that expands consumer or business choices in context of decarbonization goals; Democrat-only co-sponsors disproportionately passed bills that restricted consumer and business choice, such as mandatory Renewable Energy and Efficiency Portfolio Standards (REEPS) and emissions standards. (iii) Bipartisan bills were disproportionately proposed in "divided" states, did not restrict consumer and business choice, had environmental justice components framed economically, and lacked environmental justice components framed either using academic social-justice jargon or non-neutrally with respect to immutable characteristics such as race. (iv) Bills that expand consumer or business choice were disproportionately enacted. Though climate change is a polarized issue, our results provide tangible insights for future bipartisan successes. Supplementary information: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s10584-022-03335-w.
... There is a growing antiscience movement marked by distrust and disinformation toward science which has been globalising quickly (Hotez, 2020). Further, research suggests that this distrust is not directly specifically at science, but rather the scientists themselves (Batelaan, 2021;Cofnas & Carl, 2018;Mann & Schleifer, 2020). Therefore, in this digital era, it is critically important to mitigate potentially negative images of scientists being spread throughout the Internet. ...
Memes within animated graphical interchange formats (GIFs) are developed and shared by Internet users to communicate cultural ideas, symbols, or practices for a wide global audience. Among the billions of GIFs shared internationally, some portray scientists engaged in scientific work. Media and science education scholarship alike have evidenced how scientists are portrayed can influence social perceptions of science and contribute to stereotypes that deter youth’s interest in and affinity to science and science occupations. To understand what social perceptions of science may manifest from new media (GIFs), the present study ascertained stereotypes using Warmth and Competence constructs from Fiske’s Stereotype Content Model (SCM). The SCM utilizes high, medium, and low warmth and competence dimensions found in media-based imagery to illuminate stereotypes. Researchers coded and categorised 287 meme-based GIFs of scientists sourced the largest online GIF repository, Giphy. A directed qualitative content analysis found high-competence and low-warmth dimensions most represented within the sample that theoretically (per SCM) represent perceptions that contribute to an envious stereotype with elements of admiration and contempt. This study suggests that although there have been improvements in the portrayals of scientists in media, however, GIFs may preserve and perpetuate the trope of the competent, yet cold, scientist.
Previous studies in China’s policy process have paid limited attention to public perceptions of experts. Through an original survey, we explore public attitudes on expertise, i.e., the merits of expert opinion and expert autonomy. We find that professional experience is the most important criterion on which respondents evaluate experts. The higher a respondent’s political trust is, the more likely he or she is to recognize the benefits that experts may offer. We also find an underlying populist tendency towards the role of experts in policy making, respondents in general agree that the will of the people should be prioritized over expert opinion.
Americans are increasingly polarized by a variety of metrics. The dimensions, extent, causes, and consequences of that polarization have been the subject of much debate. Yet despite the centrality of religion to early discussions, the analytical focus on America's divides has largely shifted toward partisan identity, political ideology, race, and class interests. I show that religion remains powerfully implicated in all dimensions of American polarization, and sociologists must once again make religion more central to their analyses. After outlining research on American polarization, focusing on the role of religion, I survey findings within the burgeoning literatures on cultural transformation processes, (White) Christian nationalism, complex religion, and Americans’ attitudes toward science in order to underscore the centrality of ethno-religious identities, religious demography, and religious institutions for both shaping and exacerbating various forms of polarization. Lastly, I propose an agenda for elucidating religion's ongoing role in understanding polarization beyond public opinion research at the macro-, meso-, and micro-levels. Though polarization research has been dominated by political scientists, leveraging religion in our analyses—not merely as a sui generis variable, but as a site of complex social behavior—facilitates novel sociological contributions to these literatures via our relative attention to multiple levels of analysis, theoretical eclecticism, and methodological fluidity.
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Despite the established health and ecological benefits of a plant-based diet, the decision to eschew meat and other animal-derived food products remains controversial. So polarising is this topic that anti-vegan communities - groups of individuals who stand vehemently against veganism - have sprung up across the internet. Much scholarship on veganism characterizes anti-vegans in passing, painting them as ill-informed, uneducated, or simply obstinate. However, little empirical work has investigated these communities and the individuals within them. Accordingly, we conducted a study using social media data from the popular platform, Reddit. Specifically, we collected all available submissions (∼3523) and comments (∼45,528) from r/AntiVegan subreddit users (N = 3819) over a five-year period. Using a battery of computerized text analytic tools, we examined the psychosocial characteristics of Reddit users who publicly identify as anti-vegan, how r/AntiVegan users discuss their beliefs, and how the individual user changes as a function of community membership. Results from our analyses suggest several individual differences that align r/AntiVegan users with the community, including dark entertainment, ex-veganism and science denial. Several topics were extensively discussed by r/AntiVegan members, including nuanced discourse on the ethicality and health implications of vegan diets, and the naturalness of animal death, which ran counter to our expectations and lay stereotypes of r/AntiVegan users. Finally, several longitudinal changes in language use were observed within the community, reflecting enhanced group commitment over time, including an increase in group-focused language and a decrease in cognitive processing. Implications for vegan-nonvegan relations are discussed.
Advocacy bias is characterized by a preponderance of published articles that support an academic discipline’s favored causes and paradigms, and by the consequent relative absence of bias countering skeptical/falsifying publications. Such imbalance between paradigm/cause advocates and skeptics can be an indication of a research process that has been corrupted by a widely shared scholarly desire to generate supportive results. The current research makes an empirical contribution to the advocacy bias literature with a content analysis based framework that assesses the level of green marketing (GM) advocacy bias among 107 GM related articles from marketing’s Financial Times (FT) list journals and 9 GM related special issues (SI). Evidence of widespread GM advocacy bias is indicated by the almost complete lack of GM skeptical/falsifying articles. It is hoped that this first empirical examination of advocacy bias within the marketing discipline will inspire more discussion and research on the topic.
Social science research can help science practitioners understand why the public responds to scientific findings differentially—sometimes believing, sometimes not. Four decades of research finds that people interpret science in ways that make it easier to dismiss scientific findings or consensuses that go against specific attitudes, or positions in social and policy debates, that they wish to maintain. This may be the case especially when a person's position is a moral conviction—that is, it is not only their preferred position, but what they feel is the morally correct position. This chapter explores why moral conviction matters for understanding public response to scientific information in the age of politicization, where moral conviction comes from, and the ways in which it poses a challenge to the foundations of science.
Since many of the problems societies face today are complex and, by origin, are scientific (e.g., climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, etc.), scientific evidence is imperative in many policymaking processes to get a deeper understanding of these issues and possible risks and to derive and justify certain policy measures. The close intertwining of science and politics, however, can have both positive (e.g., growing recognition or reputation, fact-based decision making) and negative consequences (e.g., growing science skepticism, expertocracy, and misuse of scientific credibility to pursue political agendas) for science. The first aim of our paper is to sharpen the theoretical conceptualization of the phenomenon of politicization, and the second aim is to disentangle different drivers (politics and political actors, media and journalists, science and scientists) that may fuel a politicization of science. Based on this, possible effects of politicization for individual scientists and for science as a whole and, thus, for the practice of science are discussed.
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Inbar and Lammers asked members of APA Division 8 (personality and social psychology) about their political orientation, hostility experienced related to their political orientation, and their willingness to discriminate against others based on perceived political orientation. In this replication and extension, 618 faculty members from various academic disciplines across four California State University campuses completed an online questionnaire that added parallel questions about the liberal experience to the original questions about the conservative experience. Participants were overwhelmingly liberal in self-report across all academic areas except agriculture. The conservative minority reported experiencing more hostility than the liberal majority, but both groups expressed similar “in-group/out-group” attitudes. Results supported the ideological-conflict hypothesis for discrimination and a “birds of a feather flock together” interpretation of the lack of political diversity among the professoriate.
Psychology celebrates diversity, recognizes the value and legitimacy of diverse beliefs, and strives to be inclusive. Yet, the profession lacks sociopolitical diversity. Most psychologists are politically liberal, and conservatives are vastly underrepresented in the profession. Moreover, when sociopolitical views guide the research, advocacy, or professional practice of psychologists, those views most often are liberal. The lack of political diversity in psychology has unintended negative consequences for research, policy advocacy, clinical practice, the design and implementation of social interventions, and professional education. It excludes or marginalizes conservatives and conservative views, having detrimental effects on the profession in each of these areas. This article examines the importance of political diversity and the negative consequences of its absence and provides strategies for increasing sociopolitical pluralism in psychology.
… Scientific work is chained to the course of progress; whereas in the realm of art there is no progress in the same sense. It is not true that the work of art of a period that has worked out new technical means, or, for instance, the laws of perspective, stands therefore artistically higher than a work of art devoid of all knowledge of those means and laws — if its form does justice to the material, that is, if its object has been chosen and formed so that it could be artistically mastered without applying those conditions and means. A work of art which is genuine “fulfilment” is never surpassed; it will never be antiquated. Individuals may differ in appreciating the personal significance of works of art, but no one will ever be able to say of such a work that it is ‘outstripped’ by another work which is also “fulfilment.”
It is frequently asserted that conservatives exhibit a cognitive style that renders them less well disposed toward science than progressives, and that they are correspondingly less trusting of scientific institutions and less knowledgeable about scientific ideas. Here we scrutinize these assertions, using data from the U.S. General Social Survey. We distinguish between three different definitions of ‘conservative’: first, identifying as conservative, rather than as liberal; second, holding socially conservative views, rather than socially progressive views; and third, holding economically conservative views, rather than economically leftist views. We find that self-identified conservatives and social conservatives are less scientifically literate and optimistic about science than, respectively, self-identified liberals and social progressives. However, we find that economic conservatives are as or more scientifically literate and optimistic about science than economic leftists. Our results highlight the importance of separating different sub-dimensions of political orientation when studying the relationships between political beliefs, scientific literacy and optimism about science.
The fundamental phenomenon of human closed-mindedness is treated in this volume. Prior psychological treatments of closed-mindedness have typically approached it from a psychodynamic perspective and have viewed it in terms of individual pathology. By contrast, the present approach stresses the epistemic functionality of closed-mindedness and its essential role in judgement and decision-making. Far from being restricted to a select group of individuals suffering from an improper socialization, closed-mindedness is something we all experience on a daily basis. Such mundane situational conditions as time pressure, noise, fatigue, or alcoholic intoxication, for example, are all known to increase the difficulty of information processing, and may contribute to one's experienced need for nonspecific closure. Whether constituting a dimension of stable individual differences, or being engendered situationally - the need for closure, once aroused, is shown to produce the very same consequences. These fundamentally include the tendency to 'seize' on early, closure-affording 'evidence', and to 'freeze' upon it thus becoming impervious to subsequent, potentially important, information. Though such consequences form a part of the individual's personal experience, they have significant implications for interpersonal, group and inter-group phenomena as well. The present volume describes these in detail and grounds them in numerous research findings of theoretical and 'real world' relevance to a wide range of topics including stereotyping, empathy, communication, in-group favouritism and political conservatism. Throughout, a distinction is maintained between the need for a nonspecific closure (i.e., any closure as long as it is firm and definite) and needs for specific closures (i.e., for judgments whose particular contents are desired by an individual). Theory and research discussed in this book should be of interest to upper level undergraduates, graduate students and faculty in social, cognitive, and personality psychology as well as in sociology, political science and business administration.
Neven Sesardic defends the view that it is both possible and useful to measure the separate contributions of heredity and environment to the explanation of human psychological differences. He critically examines the view--very widely accepted by scientists, social scientists and philosophers of science--that heritability estimates have no causal implications and are devoid of any interest and subjects the arguments to close philosophical scrutiny. His conclusion is that anti-heritability arguments are based on conceptual confusions and misunderstandings of behavioral genetics.
The fourth edition of Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities critically examines the breadth of research on this complex and controversial topic, with the principal aim of helping the reader to understand where sex differences are found - and where they are not.