Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Bill Nye can't deny Republicans are more scientifically literate than Democrats

++Addition2++See Emil Kirkegaard's post on the problems with asserting greater scientific literacy based on a crude, simple count.

I understand as much. The assertion is tongue-in-cheek. When it comes to multivariate analyses of disparate data sets, I'm playing checkers in a game of chess. Without downloading the full data set I'm not even sure how I'd do that, nor do I plan to try. I'm just looking at wins and losses on individual questions without looking at passer ratings, penalty yards, or even point spreads.

The intention of this post is primarily polemic in nature. The takeaway: Democrats are not "pro-science" and Republicans "anti-science", whatever those identifiers mean. It's more, ahem, nuanced than that.

++Addition++Jon Claerbout pointed out that I misread the question on the greenhouse effect.

I was interpreting it as getting after the earth's surface becoming hotter due to depletion in the ozone layer and how solar radiation passes through the upper atmosphere. That majorities answered inline with that incorrect reading is probably why I lazily assumed it was right. On closer inspection, it's clear that he's correct and I'd inverted the correct answer rates in the table.

I've corrected the error and adjusted the partisan 'score' accordingly. I apologize for the sloppiness and appreciate the correction.


Several years ago I looked at a battery of questions from the GSS concerning scientific literacy and found that Republicans to be more scientifically knowledgeable than Democrats, whites more scientifically knowledgeable than non-whites (including Asians), and men more scientifically knowledgeable than women.

Pointing out that Republicans, whites, and men are the most scientifically well-informed demographic groups was fun a decade ago. It's even more fun in The Current Year, filled as it is with Marches For Science and self-proclaimed Science Guys using anthropomorphic ice cream cones to engage in decidedly unscientific make-believe.

So I'm going to update the tables using additional questions and subsequent years of collected data. Scouring the survey turns up 26 questions, most of which were asked five times from 2006 to 2016, though there are some exceptions as noted below. For contemporary relevance, all responses are from the turn of the millennium onward.

This post will look at partisan affiliation since that deals with the left's putative trump (heh) card. Most people know science is and has historically been a white man's wheelhouse. Like so much else SWPLs love the idea of loving, that white men do it best has the tendency to make things a little... awkward.

To avoid any attention being paid to that awkwardness, a group of putatively ignorant and/or evil group of people must be identified and ridiculed, in this case as official Science Deniers. As they so often do, Republicans stand in as that ignorant and/or evil group of people. And most Republicans are white men, don't you know?

Some of the questions in the table are inverted for viewer ease so that in all cases presented here, the higher the percentage, the more knowledgeable the group is. That is not the case in the survey, however, so some sort of positivity bias isn't confounding the results.

The items are presented alphabetically by variable for the 14 questions that have been asked every iteration of the survey since 2006 and then alphabetically by variable for the remaining 12 questions that have been asked in one or some number of years from 2000 onward, with included years in parentheses following the item description. Bolded red figures indicate greater knowledge among Republicans; bolded blue figures greater knowledge among Democrats:

Astrology is not scientific72.761.3
Father, not mother, determines a child's sex76.269.4
Continental drift has and continues to occur86.590.2
The earth revolves around the sun81.176.4
Electrons are smaller than atoms70.768.7
Humans evolved from other animals39.957.8
Understands the need for control groups in testing82.380.3
The earth's core is very hot95.393.3
Lasers are not made by condensing sound waves73.261.1
Demonstrates a basic understanding of probability92.586.1
Demonstrates a modestly more advanced understanding of probability80.676.0
Not all radioactivity is man-made87.377.0
It takes the earth one year to rotate around the sun78.074.1
Antibiotics do not kill viruses65.051.2
Respondent does not refuse to eat genetically modified foods (2006)72.661.4
Genetics play a substantial role in determining personality (2004)25.126.0
Not all radioactivity is fatal to humans (2000)76.067.2
The greenhouse effect is not caused by a hole in the earth's atmosphere (2000)38.742.7
The use of coal and oil contributes to the greenhouse effect (2000)68.574.8
Polar ice caps have shrunk over the last 25 years (2006, 2010)93.491.8
The north pole is on a sheet of ice (2006, 2010)57.667.7
Demonstrates a basic understanding of nanotechnology (2006, 2008, 2010)86.588.4
Demonstrates a modestly more advanced understanding of nanotechnology (2006, 2008, 2010)77.479.3
It is not perpetually dark at the south pole (2006, 2010)89.086.2
Not all artificial chemicals cause cancer (2000)53.951.5
Understands that non-GMO tomatoes still have genetic material (2010)73.464.6

Final score: Republicans 18, Democrats 8.

The Republicans-are-scientifically-illiterate trope is primarily predicated on two issues--human evolution and catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. The former is clearly evinced here, the latter not so much.

The GSS treats warming as a theory and consequently only asks questions about what groups or types of people are informed on the debate, etc. To get direct questions on climate change (which was referred to as "global warming" at the time) we have to go back to 2000 when the phrase "greenhouse effect" was bandied about. My how things--climate included--change over time!

Every bit as Diverse as the Democrat electorate!
White Democrats know the politically correct and scientifically incorrect response when it comes to genetics and personality, but large numbers of non-whites either do not or simply don't care about the politically correct answer.

We will make the types of leftists who show up at the Marches For Science feel better about themselves in a subsequent post. I'm sure you can guess how.



Jon Claerbout said...

The greenhouse effect is NOT caused by a hole in the earth's atmosphere

szopen said...

"Climate change" was used in scientific literature since ages:

Before 1995:
https://scholar.google.pl/scholar?q=%22climate+change%22&btnG=&hl=pl&as_sdt=0%2C5&as_yhi=1995&as_vis=1 (83 thousand hits)
https://scholar.google.pl/scholar?q=%22global+warming%22&btnG=&hl=pl&as_sdt=0%2C5&as_yhi=1995&as_vis=1 (25 thousand hits)

Since 2000
https://scholar.google.pl/scholar?q=%22global+warming%22&hl=pl&as_sdt=0%2C5&as_vis=1&as_ylo=2000&as_yhi= (951 thousand hits)
https://scholar.google.pl/scholar?q=%22climate+change%22&btnG=&hl=pl&as_sdt=0%2C5&as_ylo=2000&as_vis=1 (1.251 thousand hits)

Before 1980:
https://scholar.google.pl/scholar?q=%22climate+change%22&hl=pl&as_sdt=0%2C5&as_vis=1&as_ylo=&as_yhi=1985 (16 thousand hits)
https://scholar.google.pl/scholar?q=%22global+warming%22&btnG=&hl=pl&as_sdt=0%2C5&as_yhi=1985&as_vis=1 (3 thousand hits)

In fact, the guy who convinced me out of being sceptic, argued, that "theory of anthropogenic global warming" is incorrect, because no such theory exists. Instead, he argued, there are theories of greenhouse gases (sorry, I don't know English enough to translate the names he proposed - teorie gazów cieplarnianych). The same theories can be used to explain warming and cooling (they are proposed to explain the extent of ice ages in the past!)

Feryl said...


The GSS ain't perfect. That variable has kind of a weaselly wording, asking people an either/or question (Is it basically genetics or environment?). Not so much asking people *how* important genetics are (as in, are genes very important, somewhat important, not important, or not important at all?)

Audacious Epigone said...


Yeah that one is worded especially poorly. They're after the earth getting hotter due to depletion in the ozone layer and how the solar radiation passes through the upper atmosphere.


Yeah, don't take that literally. I use an exclamation point to show I'm being tongue-in-cheek. The vernacular has changed noticeably, but that tends to lag behind the science.


Agreed, though the same results show up with RACDIF2 (which is also sub-optimal because of it's use of "inferior", etc).

Audacious Epigone said...


Never mind, I screwed that up. See the update. Thanks.

Ross said...

Several items fall within a few points of each other:

Electrons are smaller than atoms, Understands need for control groups in testing, The Earth's core is very hot, Genetics play a substantial role in determining personality, Polar ice caps have shrunk, Demonstrates basic understanding of nanotechnology, Not all artificial chemicals cause cancer.

These are all within ~2% points of equality, and Republicans win 5 of those 7 items.

How do we calculate margin of error for GSS data when separating by party? I am not familiar with any of this.

Anonymous said...

Does this control for race? Or are we just seeing the effect of Democrats having more lower IQ minorities in their coalition?

akarlin said...

(1) Let's be frank, though - significant percentage of Democrats are POCs. Subtract them and I am reasonably sure that White Dems outperform White Reps.

(2) Most telling result - bipartisan blank slatist consensus.

Joshua Sinistar said...

Yeah, Bill Nye is an ACTOR. Have you seen his first gig? He was the "assistant" of Dr. Emmet L. Brown on the Back to the Future Saturday Morning Cartoon Show. Apparently every bad guy in History is an Angry White Male directly related to Biff Tannen. Figures huh? So is Trump really. The Federal Goobermint is just a two party looting society. They're supposed to Balance the Budget, Defend American Interests, and Maintain the infrastructure. They do bupkus about what they're supposed to do.
Climate Change is JUST A SCAM. EVERYTHING is JUST A SCAM. OBAMASCARE is a SCAM. "CLEAN ENERGY" is a SCAM. "Diversity" is a SCAM.
We're not talking about science, or even policy here. Its all a SCAM. This isn't a Government at all, man. Its a Parliament of Whores LOOTING AMERIKWA for their DONOR PIMPS. "Domestic Policy", "Foreign Policy", "Healthcare", "Sustainability", etc, etc. etc.
McJobs for McWhores without a future. Arguing about SCAMS is MISSING THE POINT.

Unknown said...

Don't depend too much on your autocorrect function, it makes mistakes too. "anthropomorphic" should be "anthropogenic".

Audacious Epigone said...


See Emil Kirkegaard's post.

When it comes to analyses like this, I'm playing checkers and he's playing chess.


It does not control for race, and to a large extent, yes. I'll look at non-Hispanic whites by partisan affiliation in a future post.

This one was for polemical purposes, primarily.


Right. The bipartisan "genetics are only skin deep" consensus is the worst result of all.


Touche, fixed. Thanks.

ardj said...

I have looked at the post you cited by Emil Kierkegaard: and while he raises several intelligent reservations (sampling error calculation problem, size of differences as noted also by Ross above, construct construction and indeed science sampling, for instance) and argues for a more sophisticated analysis of the data, to determine how the stimuli (statements about "science") are being used, his solution is as simplistic as your own analysis - a chart may look more impressive to some than figure, but pictures can lie better than words. In fact one very big hole is blown in your whole argument by akarlin's suggestion that the sample of democrats may be skewed to those less informed (whether for reasons of ethnic background or for other causes). I also have no knowledge of the survey itself - at least the link you give does not provide any details of background, method, sample or timing, let alone stratification, clustering, and general sample design - and I am not going to chase them down when what you are arguing is so self-evidently silly.

Leaving aside the nonsense of some items included (like "Respondent does not refuse to eat genetically modified foods" which may have little or nothing to do with the general scientific evaluation that they are not harmful), the whole aim of suggesting on this kind of analysis that man-made climate change is an unscientific argument is risible. cf. http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024 - and:

Can I suggest that you learn a little more about sampling and statistics, not to mention questionnaire construction, before continuing your "plain mans's" guide ?

ardj said...

Sorry: "figure" in line 5 above should read "figures"

Santoculto said...

Seems avg white lib = ~ university students ~ 103

Avg white rep/cons = ~ 97 ( based on avg IQ of defuncted Ukip).

Avg white lib may need more about "mentalistic-like knowledge" (humanities: psychology, medicine), know or is "more-informed", not necessarily better-informed. Avg white cons know or is more interested in "mechanicistic knowledge" but not as same level as brighter cons/rep.

Santoculto said...

Know and not "need more about.

Odin!!! -.-

Audacious Epigone said...


It's obvious you're not familiar with the GSS, else you'd understand that the link I provide is the only one I'm able to provide. It's why all the variables used are included in the body of the post. It's the largest social survey in the US and the total respondent pool in each iteration of the survey is nationally representative. You're misinterpreting Anatoly's point. His is relevant, yours is not.

the whole aim of suggesting on this kind of analysis that man-made climate change is an unscientific argument is risible

Straw man. Where is this asserted?