Public opinion of evolution – Different approaches to measuring evolution beliefs

Public opinion of evolution – Different approaches to measuring evolution beliefs

Author: Kathleen Rose – Dartmouth College, United States

Dominique Brossard – University of Wisconsin-Madison
Dietram Scheufele – University of Wisconsin-Madison
Michael Xenos – University of Wisconsin-Madison

In 2010, the National Science Board’s (NSB) Science and Engineering Indicators excluded questions about evolution from both the report and their measure of scientific knowledge (NSB, 2016). While this decision generated “flak” from the broader community (Bhattacharjee, 2010), the NSB argued that the consistently low U.S. score on the human evolution questions indicated they were not a reliable measure of scientific knowledge. The NSB has also tested two versions of the question: “human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals” with and without the preface “according to the theory of evolution.” As scores improved with the theory of evolution wording, the NSB concluded that the question reflected beliefs instead of knowledge where “many people know basic facts about evolution and science without believing in human evolution” (NSB, 2016, p. 48).

Beyond differences in knowledge scores, additional research has demonstrated that compared to Europe, U.S. views are strongly driven by religious beliefs, political ideology, and “genetic literacy” (Miller, Scott, & Okamoto, 2006). While there is a clear division in the U.S. between evolution knowledge and belief, empirical questions remain as to what factors drive the discrepancy between knowing the “basic facts,” yet believing otherwise.

Using data gathered from a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults in early 2017 (N=1,600; completion rate=41.7%), we explore differences in evolution knowledge and beliefs. Modifying the NSB experiment, we asked about human evolution by itself and prefaced with “according to scientists.” Respondents were then categorized into one of four groups based on their own beliefs and their views of the science. Results indicate that the discrepancies between expert views and their own are driven by values (e.g., religion), news use, discussion networks, and knowledge, among other factors. We discuss the implications of these groupings for public opinion about controversial topics.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Idea in progress
Theme: Science
Area of interest: Building a theoretical basis for science communication