People often evaluate scientific evidence not on the basis of its perceived merits, but on whether they agree with the policy implications of the research, according to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Using issues like climate change and air pollution as test cases, Duke University researchers sought to determine if what they call a “solution aversion” bias could be detected among self-identified Republican or Democratic survey participants.

In one example, participants were provided a scientific assertion that global average temperatures could rise as much as 3.2 degrees by the end of the century, after which they were presented with potential policy solutions. If that solution involved government regulation or increased taxes, just 22 percent of Republican participants expressed confidence in the initial scientific finding. But if the solution emphasized using market forces to curb temperatures, the percentage of Republicans accepting the initial temperature predictions rose to 55 percent. Self-identified Democrats displayed no difference in the same experiment, but liberal biases were clearly elicited on other issues, including crime and gun control, the researchers found.

The study complements previous analyses from Yale University and elsewhere, which suggest that education in the sciences is a poor predictor for global warming beliefs, and that rejection or acceptance of the problem is a product of much complicated sociological and psychological factors.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.

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