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EASP – European Association of Social Psychology

EASP Seedcorn Grant Report by Bastiaan Rutjens

07.02.2019, by Tina Keil in grant report

University of Amsterdam, Netherlands; Project relating to the heterogeneous nature of belief in science and science skepticism

Bastiaan Rutjens, Photo: Bas Uterwijk
Bastiaan Rutjens, Photo: Bas Uterwijk

Why are some people more skeptical about science than others? And how large is the influence of political conviction and religion on the degree of science skepticism? Extensive research has been done in particular on political ideology as a predictor of climate change skepticism, for example. To date, however, not much research exists in which different forms of skepticisms are studied simultaneously and in which several different predictors are taking into account.

In our initial research (Rutjens, Sutton, & van der Lee, 2018), we focused on skepticism about climate change, genetically modified foods and vaccinations. We also looked at general levels of trust in science. Our findings, obtained in three studies, were largely consistent and highlighted the importance of religiosity as a predictor of science acceptance and rejection. Using regression analyses, we found that climate change skepticism was best predicted by political conservatism. This corroborates earlier work (Lewandoswky et al., 2013; Hornsey et al., 2016). In contrast, vaccine skepticism was best predicted by religiosity and moral purity concerns. Political conservatism did not play a meaningful role. We also observed that, among religious participants, the more orthodox ones were skeptical about vaccines because of a low general faith in science. Furthermore, neither political nor religious ideology predicted GMO skepticism. Rather, faith in science and scientific literacy were the strongest negative predictors of GMO skepticism. General belief in science and the willingness to support science (through the allocation of monetary resources to science) were best predicted by religiosity.

Thus, the above research speaks to the heterogeneous nature of belief in science and science skepticism: We concluded from these findings that political ideology and religiosity independently predict science acceptance and rejection, depending on the topic of investigation. However, an important limitation is that this research exclusively targeted North American respondents, using survey methods as well as secondary analyses on general social survey data. In the current project, our aim was to do comparative research among other nationalities, targeting participants across the globe. With the help of this Seedcorn grant, combined with another grant, we were able to collect data from 25 countries on all continents. This huge pile of data is currently being analyzed. In addition, we conducted a study among a Dutch community sample, in which we tested additional potential antecedents of science skepticism, such as spirituality, conspiracy thinking and impact bias (see Rutjens, Heine, Sutton, & van Harreveld, 2018). We show that many of the findings previously obtained among US samples hold up, with one crucial difference: rather than religiosity, we observe that spirituality is the most consistent predictor of various manifestations of science skepticism and distrust, over and beyond other potential predictors and controlling for various demographic variables.

I would like to end this short report with a huge thank you to EASP. The Seedcorn grant has been prove instrumental in setting up this research project, and I am proud to be a member of this wonderful organization of European social psychologists.


  1. Hornsey, M. J., Harris, E. A., Bain, P. G., & Fielding, K. S. (2016). Meta-analyses of the determinants and outcomes of belief in climate change. Nature Climate Change.
  2. Lewandowsky, S., Gignac, G. E., & Oberauer, K. (2013b). The role of conspiracist ideation and worldviews in predicting rejection of science. PLoS One, 8(10), e75637.
  3. Rutjens, B. T., Heine, S. J., Sutton, R. M., & van Harreveld, F. (2018). Attitudes towards science. Advances In Experimental Social Psychology (Vol 57).
  4. Rutjens, B. T., Sutton, R. M., & van der Lee, R. (2018). Not all skepticism is equal: Exploring the ideological antecedents of science acceptance and rejection. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 44(3), 384-405