Science opponents believe that their knowledge ranks among the highest, but is actually among the lowest.

People with the greatest opposition to scientific consensus tend to have the lowest objective science knowledge, but the highest self-evaluation knowledge. Science Advances. The findings are in line with the Dunning-Kruger effect, a well-documented phenomenon in which people lacking skills or knowledge tend to overestimate their abilities.

“I’m interested in the public’s understanding of science because it’s extremely important to societal and environmental well-being,” said study author Nick Light, assistant professor of marketing at Portland State University. “When people act contrary to good science, they get sick, lose their homes, lose their money, are displaced and even die (as with COVID, natural disasters). The better we can understand why people have attitudes that go against the scientific consensus, the better scientists or policymakers can design interventions to help people.”

In the first two studies of 3,249 US adults from Amazon Mechanical Turk and Prolific Academic, participants were randomly selected to indicate their level of support or opposition to one of seven scientific topics: climate change, genetically modified foods, nuclear power, vaccination. , evolution, 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, the participants then answered 34 randomly ordered true-false questions. The questions are, “True or false? The center of the earth is very 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 scientific consensus on a given topic were more likely to claim to have a “complete understanding” of the issue. But those more opposed to scientific consensus tended to score worse on the objective science knowledge test.

“Scientists are constantly debating the best ways to explain the world around us,” Light told PsyPost. “But sometimes the evidence is so strong or consistent that most agree on one thing. This is what we call scientific consensus. In this paper, we see that people with attitudes more opposed to scientific consensus think they know the most about scientific issues, but actually think the least.”

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

“The main caveat is that while this effect pattern seems pretty general, we don’t find it for all issues,” said Light. “An important example is climate change. Our next steps involve delving into psychology really deeply to try to understand why we haven’t found these effects for some problems.”

In a third study involving 1,173 US adults, participants were given the opportunity to bet on their ability to score above average on an objective science knowledge test. In line with previous studies, Light and colleagues found that participants who were more opposed to scientific consensus tended to earn less because of overconfidence in information.

In a fourth study involving 501 participants, researchers examined whether excessive informational confidence was associated with a desire to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The study was conducted in July 2020, before a vaccine was made public. Participants were asked about their willingness to be vaccinated in the future and then rated their understanding of how a COVID-19 vaccine would work.

Participants then asked questions about COVID-19, “True or false? COVID-19 is a kind of bacteria” and “True or false? COVID-19 can be transmitted through houseflies.”

Light and colleagues found that participants who were more averse to receiving the vaccine tended to report a greater understanding of how a COVID-19 vaccine would work, but their general science and COVID-19 knowledge tended to be worse.

A fifth study of 695 participants, conducted in September 2020, found a similar pattern of outcomes regarding COVID-19 mitigation policies. The results persisted even after checking for political identity.

The findings have some practical implications for science communicators and policymakers, the researchers said.

“Given that the most extreme opponents of the scientific consensus tend to be those with the most confidence in their knowledge, fact-based education interventions are less likely to be effective for this audience,” Light and colleagues write. “For example, the Ad Council conducted one of the largest public education campaigns in history to persuade people to get the COVID-19 vaccine. If people with strong anti-vaccine beliefs think they already know everything there is to know about vaccines and COVID-19, the campaign is unlikely to convince them.”

“Over-reliance on information is associated with anti-consensus views on controversial scientific issues” by Nicholas Light, Philip M. Fernbach, Nathaniel Rabb, Mugur V. Geana, and Steven A. Sloman.

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