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The enduring effect of scientific interest on trust in climate scientists in the United States

Abstract

People who distrust scientists are more likely to reject scientific consensus, and are more likely to support politicians who are sceptical of scientific research1. Consequently, boosting Americans’ trust in scientists is a central goal of science communication2. However, while previous research has identified several correlates of distrust in climate scientists3 and scientists more broadly4, far less is known about potential long-term influences taking root in young adulthood. This omission is notable, as previous research suggests that attitudes towards science formulated in pre-teenage years play a key role in shaping attitudes in adulthood5. Using data from the Longitudinal Study of American Youth, I find that interest in science at age 12–14 years is associated with increased trust in climate scientists in adulthood (mid thirties), irrespective of Americans’ political ideology. The enduring and bipartisan effects of scientific interest at young ages suggest a potential direction for future efforts to boost mass trust in climate scientists.

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Fig. 1: The effect of scientific interest, quantitative ability and science knowledge (ages 12–14) on adulthood trust in climate scientists.
Fig. 2: Decomposition of the cumulative effect of scientific interest on trust in climate scientists.

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Acknowledgements

Funding for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation (grant no. 00039202).

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M.M. contributed to all aspects of this paper, including statistical analysis, writing and revisions.

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Correspondence to Matthew Motta.

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Supplementary Tables 1–6 and Figures 1 & 2

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This DO file (syntax file for Stata 13) contains all syntax necessary to reproduce the tables and figures presented in both the letter and Supplementary Information. File paths have been removed, so the user must point to locations on their own drive. As a reminder, the data necessary to reproduce these findings can be downloaded for free (consult the Methods for a full citation and link)

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Motta, M. The enduring effect of scientific interest on trust in climate scientists in the United States. Nature Clim Change 8, 485–488 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0126-9

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