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Why Republicans Distrust Mainstream Climate Science

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Inspired by Jonathan Chait's recent column in the LA Times, there's been some renewed commentary about why so many Republicans reject mainstream science on the issue of climate change. None of what's currently being said is wrong, particularly when it comes to the right's disdain for Al Gore and environmentalists, or its allegiance to industry. However, the picture is more complicated, and I'd like to suggest that we consider some other factors:

1. The broad and longstanding conservative distrust of academia and "leftwing" campus intellectuals, including scientists. This allows many Republicans to dismiss large bodies of scientific research as essentially politicized and therefore safe to ignore.

2. The growth of ideological think tanks which provide alternative "facts" and alternative "knowledge" tailor-made for conservatives. It's not just that many Republicans reject mainline "science"; they actually have their own.

3. The growth of a rightwing media that quotes the think-tank "experts" and puts them on the air regularly--so that the sealed off alternative knowledge environment becomes complete and very hard for mainstream science to penetrate (especially when scientists themselves do not speak in a language designed to appeal to political conservatives).

I would submit that all of these factors matter. It's not just disliking Gore or loving industry (although that's part of the picture). It's the entire multi-decadal quest to create thinkers, intellectuals, media, and even scientists who express a conservative point of view. If you cling to these information sources, you can continue to ignore mainstream climate science no matter how much certainty--and it's now at 90 percent--gets ascribed to the conclusion that humans are cooking the planet.

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