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Politics and science

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Politics and science
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Science has long been at the heart of many of the country's most intense political debates. That apparently has taken its toll. YNN's Bill Carey says a new study shows a declining number of Americans now trust the answers that science offers.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- There was a time in the mid 20th century when the nation had become captivated with science. It was the path, many felt, to answering the problems of the globe. The space race helped fuel a new faith that science could find the answers.

“Had this 20 inch sphere going around the globe, Sputnik. And the response to the public, as a whole, to have, basically, science and engineering step up. And the faith in both science and engineering in the 50s, 60s, 70s and even into the 80s, very, very strong,” said SUNY ESF President Neil Murphy.

But look at what's happened now. A study in the American Sociological Review finds faith in science has plummeted in the past half century. And much of the drop seems to have its roots in politics.

While some may point to the religious right as the reason for that drop off, in fact the research shows that the biggest decline was among self-identified conservatives with a college degree. The same group that, half a century ago, trusted science the most.

While many of the "new doubters" may not identify with the "religious right," many point to the renewed debate between science and religion on the issue of creationism as the genesis of the schism.

“Framing it in ways so that it wasn't simply about religion and lending some science, if you will, to their arguments helped to make it more palatable for both republican, educated persons and beyond,” said Colgate University political scientist Nina Moore.

Add in new debates over issues like global warming and the decline deepened.

Education not playing as key a role as the realities of household debates over the issues of recent decades.

“Our thinking is shaped by what we grew up with. What our parents told us. Our environment. the region in which we lived. And so, all of those things have always moderated the effect of education, if you will. By and large, education usually prevails in certain instances, but not entirely on its own,” Moore said.

Those on the side of science know they have challenges ahead.

“We need to do a better job, I think, on the science end, communicating. And I think we need a little more trust on both the conservative and non-conservative side, the population as a whole, that we can not only define the problem, but we can come up with solutions,” Murphy said.

Solutions that, again, make science an inspiration, not an irritation.

The new study shows that just 34 percent of those who identify themselves as "conservative" have confidence in science as an institution. That is down from 48 percent back in 1974.

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