What data behind “change in trust in science” really show

Post by Razib Khan made me wanna look at the data behind the questionable change in trust in science from 1998 to 2008 a bit more.

The dilemma whether trust in science vs. religion was impacted by the “broadsides against religion” was approached by asking responders whether they agree with this statement: “We trust too much in science and not enough in religious faith.”  The responses were:

– Strongly agree
– Agree
– Not agree or disagree
– Disagree
– Strongly disagree

The data are right here:

Looking at these data, Razib made very reasonable conclusion “don’t see much difference”.

I could not pass an opportunity to apply principal component analysis to this table above.

The biplot below shows both responses and demographic categories.

Demographic responses in 1998 are shown in green and those in 2008 are in blue. Arrows  are connecting the same category of demographic between two different years. It is clearly that there is no change in total and majority of individual categories.

However, there are 3 peculiarities that caught my attention. There are three red arrows on the plot showing quite significant change. That’s why I love PCA – easy way to visualize data with multiple variables, and the data are still there for us to explore (some think that PCA is a black magic that eats all the data away) !

So back to original data now. Changes in those with “none” religious preferences and “liberal” political views are quite similar (such overlap between these groups is not suprising), in which big part of people who were uncertain (‘neither‘) have transitioned into a group of “disagree“. For “independent” class,  responses in all categories changed except those in “agree” group. (Interesting observation by itself, that indicates the fluid unpredictible character of independent voters?)   Big part of “strongly agreeing”  and “neither” is lost (from 14% to 5% and from 34% to 28% respectively) while  “disagreeing” % grew from 22% to 36%.

To sum up, careful analysis of data shows that in all three categories of responders with largest changes from 1998 to 2008,  the group supporting science grew (“disagree and “strongly disagree” categories of responses) . The major source of this growth seems to be from the pool of those with neutral opinion (‘neither“) except independent for which large % of those that “strongly agree” also switched to “disagree“.

So, I am confused.. People in conservative and religious groups that would be affected the way Robert Wright hypotheses did not show changes in the way they view trust in science vs religion. At the same time, more people  from liberal groups disagree with the statement indicating that they trust science more than before. How exactly this is a sign of weaking trust in science?

By the way, I find the statement  to be  pretty confusing way to ask such a straightforward question…


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