Dr. Haglin and Dr. Vedlitz have a newly published paper in Science and Public Policy, “Ideology, Knowledge, and the Assessment of Science Policy Agencies.” In their paper, the researchers study how different types of knowledge about energy and political ideology form people’s evaluations of two U.S. energy-related government scientific agencies – the Environmental Protections Agency (EPA) and Department of Energy (DOE)? Individuals possess both perceived knowledge (how much they think they know) and objective knowledge (how much they know about relevant science facts). Measures of both types of knowledge show that some people think they know more than the actually do while others perceive they know less than they do. How do these differences effect people’s attitudes of the EPA and DOE? Knowledge differences of any kind result in significantly stronger negative views of both agencies with discrepancies with higher objective knowledge relative to perceived knowledge accounting for a higher portion of these less favorable assessments.
People’s political ideology, how conservative or liberal they are in their views of government, may result in different interpretations of scientific evidence even when knowledge levels are the same. Do conservatives and liberals assess federal science agencies differently? Yes, higher levels of conservativism correlate with stronger negative views of the EPA and DOE. Furthermore, strong liberals become more positive about the agencies and strong conservatives more negative as perceived knowledge increases beyond objective knowledge. As the authors point out, “ideology and disparities between perceived knowledge and objective knowledge have persistent, larger effects” than other important factors on evaluations of scientific agencies.