Professor Finds Tea Party Understands Science, Learns Lesson About Media Stereotyping

Dan Kahan, professor of law and psychology, found that those who identify with the Tea Party score higher than non-Tea Partiers on a measure of science comprehension. In a blog post, he says the results surprised him because his only impressions of Tea Partiers came from watching news coverage of the movement.

He expected to find below average science comprehension among Tea Party supporters, Kahan wrote. "But then again, I don't know a single person who identifies with the Tea Party. All my impressions come from watching cable TV – & I don't watch Fox News very often – and reading the 'paper' (New York Times daily, plus a variety of politics-focused internet sites like Huffington Post & Politico)."

Kahan's research uses a set of questions to measure science comprehension plus a cognition test that measures critical thinking skills. Using this measure he previously found that science comprehension has a positive correlation with education and a negative correlation with religion.

He does not believe the negative correlation with religion is "a very big deal" because the difference is small and, "there are plenty of highly religious folks who have a high science comprehension score, and plenty of secular ones who don't."

Kahan also found a small ideological and partisan difference. Combining a liberal/conservative scale with a party identification question, he found liberals/Democrats show slightly more scientific comprehension than conservatives/Republicans.

When he looked at those who identify with the Tea Party, though, he found that Tea Partiers have slightly higher scientific comprehension than those who do not identify with the Tea Party. Though the difference was "trivially small," he found it striking because it was in the opposite direction from what he expected.

"I'm a little embarrassed, but mainly I'm just glad that I no longer hold this particular mistaken view," he concluded.