Letter

Millions of online book co-purchases reveal partisan differences in the consumption of science

  • Nature Human Behaviour 1, Article number: 0079 (2017)
  • doi:10.1038/s41562-017-0079
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Abstract

Passionate disagreements about climate change, stem cell research and evolution raise concerns that science has become a new battlefield in the culture wars. We used data derived from millions of online co-purchases as a behavioural indicator for whether shared interest in science bridges political differences or selective attention reinforces existing divisions. Findings reveal partisan preferences both within and across scientific disciplines. Across fields, customers for liberal or ‘blue’ political books prefer basic science (for example, physics, astronomy and zoology), whereas conservative or ‘red’ customers prefer applied and commercial science (for example, criminology, medicine and geophysics). Within disciplines, ‘red’ books tend to be co-purchased with a narrower subset of science books on the periphery of the discipline. We conclude that the political left and right share an interest in science in general, but not science in particular. This underscores the need for research into remedies that can attenuate selective exposure to ‘convenient truth’, renew the capacity for science to inform political debate and temper partisan passions.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful for comments from participants in seminars at Microsoft Research–New England, MSR-NY, GESIS-Koln, University of Michigan School of Information, Duke University DNAC, the first International Conference on Computational Social Science, and the Computational Social Science Summit at Northwestern. We acknowledge funding from the John Templeton Foundation to the Metaknowledge Network, NSF SES 1303533, SES 1226483, SES 1158803, National Research Foundation of Korea NRF-2013S1A3A2055285 and Air Force Office of Scientific Research FA9550-15-1-0162, and computation support from the Open Science Data Cloud. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

Author information

Author notes

    • Feng Shi
    •  & Yongren Shi

    These authors contributed equally to this work.

Affiliations

  1. Computation Institute, University of Chicago, 5735 South Ellis Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA

    • Feng Shi
    •  & James A. Evans
  2. Yale Institute for Network Science, Yale University, 17 Hillhouse Avenue, New Haven, Connecticut 06511, USA

    • Yongren Shi
  3. Department of Sociology, Cornell University, 323 Uris Hall, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA

    • Fedor A. Dokshin
    •  & Michael W. Macy
  4. Department of Sociology, University of Chicago, 1126 East 59th Street, Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA

    • James A. Evans

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Contributions

All authors designed the research and drafted the paper. F.S., Y.S. and F.A.D. gathered and analysed the data.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to James A. Evans or Michael W. Macy.

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