How Nature journal hurt Trump supporters’ trust in science
A new study shows that endorsing Biden had a polarising effect on its readership
A leading science journal’s endorsement of Joe Biden in 2020 resulted in a significant reduction in trust among Donald Trump-supporting readers, a new paper has found. At the same time, trust among Biden supporters rose only slightly.
Performed in late July and early August 2021, the experiment randomly assigned participants to receive information about Nature’s endorsement, while the control group were given irrelevant information about the journal’s new website design. Both Trump and Biden supporters were presented with the author’s summary of the messages conveyed in Nature’s 2020 editorial.
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Published on 14 October, the editorial outlined why the journal supported Biden for president. “Joe Biden,” it read, “is the nation’s best hope to begin to repair this damage to science and the truth — by virtue of his policies and his leadership record in office, as a former vice-president and as a senator.” Attacking Trump for his Covid response and for “promoting nationalism, isolationism and xenophobia”, the editorial claimed that only Biden could “restore trust in truth, in evidence, in science and in other institutions of democracy”.
At the time, Nature‘s was one of many high-profile political endorsements by scientific journals, all of which lined up behind the man now occupying the White House. But the publication’s own findings this week reveal that its bid to galvanise support for Biden may have had the reverse effect.
Participants were given a screenshot of the editorial’s title and first paragraph, and a link to the full text. They were then asked various follow-up questions.
As the table above shows, the strength of reaction to the endorsement was particularly acute among Trump supporters, with treated participants (i.e. those who viewed the endorsement) scaling much higher on negative attitudes towards Nature‘s impartiality and knowledge. For Biden supporters, there was a marginal uptick in positive attitudes.
Besides reducing trust in Nature among Trump supporters, the endorsement also had a cascading effect on their attitudes towards science and scientists more generally. Trump supporters were less likely to report high levels of trust towards US scientists than Biden supporters after the endorsement, and the gap is larger for treated participants.
In addition, the shifts in trust in Nature resulted in lower demand for Covid-related information from the journal among Trump supporters. Results found that, at the height of the Delta variant surge in the US, the endorsement led to a -14.2 percentage point reduction in the frequency at which Trump supporters requested Nature articles, whereas the upswing for Biden supporters was negligible.
These results show that Nature’s endorsement had a hugely divisive effect on its readership. Treated Trump and Biden supporters became two to four times more polarised than the control participants on these stated measures of trust in Nature. Meanwhile, treated Trump supporters were 38% less likely than control Trump supporters to request stories from the publication’s website. What’s more, the endorsement had little effect on changing participants’ opinions about the two presidential candidates, rendering it ineffective.
In response to the research, Nature published an editorial defending its endorsement. Entitled ‘Should Nature endorse political candidates? Yes — when the occasion demands it’, it argued that “when individuals seeking office have a track record of causing harm, when they are transparently dismissive of facts and integrity, when they threaten scholarly autonomy, and when they are disdainful of cooperation and consensus, it becomes important to speak up”.
For me, one of the tragedies of the pandemic was the debasement of science. The word was converted to a political term and science itself became a political tool not least because leading journals such as Nature politicized their content and editorial policies.
Our future depends on science and its application to practical problems of medicine, engineering, etc. Our universities no longer accept the notion of facts or objective reality, and our leading journals are politicized. More than the latest woke outrage (always good click bait), the debasement of science is perhaps the greatest threat to our collective future.
I am a scientist. I was proud. Now it is a dirty word.
Quite ironic then that you dismiss the work and findings of The Royal Society on other matters.
You have been brainwashed. You just don’t know. There is no point.
Just a minute. Let’s just park subjects and issues for a moment. This is about who you believe and why. Right now you claim to know better than The Royal Society? Why? The oldest, most respected, political free and totally bullet proof scientific organisation there is. You complain about integrity of scientists yet appear to dismiss their views. You can’t have it both ways.
What is the motto of the Royal Society? Just asking…
Questioning science is essential, dismissing it as a hoax is not.
Do you even know how the Royal Society and the US equivalent, the NAS, actually work. The fact is that the policy proposals they push have nothing to do with the membership. It is unfortunate that both the NAS and the RS (and the RS has become the poodle of the NAS) simply support the status quo and the narrative of the democratic party. Their reports, and this is especially true of the NAS, are nothing more than Think Tank reports and have no more value or credibility than reports from any other reputable Think Tank such as Rand, etc…. Until the NAS and RS learn to blue team/red team important issues of the day that have major consequences to society, they have little useful to say.
Cynical nonsense. The Royal Society provide key reference points on important topics.
I appreciate your devotion to science, but the Royal Society is also pursuing and pushing an agenda. Any organization that says men can be women has fallen into anti-science dogma. While the Society may still publish papers that are valid, they shouldn’t be taken at face-value. There is nothing wrong with healthy skepticism.
Science can tell us how to build a house, and how to sow a field. Science cannot tell us whether we will live in that house, or whether we will reap what we sow. It can tell us what we can do but it cannot tell us what we should do. The injunction to “follow the science” assumes a fundamental misunderstanding.
In New Zealand, the Royal Society for science has been completely captured by the PC brigade. It is definitely not bullet proof. When you mix politics with science you don’t get science, one gets politics.
You’ve got this totally backwards of course. The overt politicization of climate science started nearly 30 years ago and sowed the seeds of distrust in science.
Jim, it goes back further than that with some publications. As early as the late 1960’s Scientific American started to publish anti-nuclear scare articles. They have gone downhill faster since, as have many of the other journals. My own American Chemical Society beclowns itself regularly with its views on global warming. Sick. The scientific ‘establishment’ has become a quasi-religious group.
The reason I stopped reading the SA was that they published uncritically a faulty article. The premise of the research was that if US blacks had a higher rate of heart attacks and died younger than US whites, the readon could only be racism. They wanted to prove this by comparing the US death rate of blacks with African countries. As the age of death for black males was so low in Nigeria, they felt unable to compare the two populations. So they changed their research and decided just to look at ways racism in the US caused lower deaths and higher rates of heart attacks in US blacks. Naively, I was shocked.
As Andrew Montford pointed out in one of the first papers published by GWPF, the Royal Society abandoned its position of impartiality some time ago when it began to present positions on particular scientific issues as being the views of the scientific community, for which it presumed to speak. Google “Nullius in Verba” – which is still the society’ motto but no longer its practice.
You, You SCIENTIST, You! Chris, there are lots of charlatans about in the scientific world (Uni of E Anglia?) and scientific media (Talking Heads like attenborough?). Just be true to your science and yourself.
Totally agree. We have however moved into an era that reflects post modernism but is turbo charged with social media and the internet. Everything is so cynical, everything is a conspiracy.
I think that the headline (which I know is not the author’s choice) misstates things for many Trump supporters. It’s not their faith in science that has been undermined, but rather their faith that what you get when you read Nature magazine is still science.
Yes, that’s an important distinction.
The editor in chief of Nature is, like me, a Brit (https://www.nature.com/nature/editors). Unlike me, but like the Guardian-reading intelligentsia, she seems to have strong views about American politics. It would certainly account for the uncalled-for endorsement.
Still, poking your nose into someone else’s internal politics is hardly just a British failing. What on earth possessed Obama to make an idiot of himself by meddling in our Brexit referendum is a mystery.
Another counter-productive move!
And, may i object to your use of the term “intelligentsia”? Unless, of course, it was meant as an example of British humour. (I’m a Brit too.)
Fair point. I was using the term in the widest possible sense.
The word “intelligentsia” originated in Czarist Russia and was NOT a positive thing. Like “meritocracy.” Those words originated out of skepticism and were redefined as unblemished positives.
I leave it to your imagination, why their meanings changed in that way.
Isn’t intelligentsia the correct use here though? The people who you would call that today are very similar in their social make up and ideas with those in Russia pre-revolution.
I believe David Cameron asked him as a favour. After all, what could possibly go wrong?!
I will be honest, I noticed this behavior in myself.
I was an early adopter of masks and stay-at-home rules. We watch NHK (Japanese) news, so I had a few days more notice than most Americans, and was wearing a mask in Home Depot 3 days before anyone else. I did this because I believed the science, and I maintained that belief until summer 2020.
However, in the wake of George Floyd, the public health establishment, which had spent months decrying relatively small lockdown protests, went all in for racial justice protests. They actually said “COVID pales as a public health problem compared to systemic racism”. That lost me. I became far more skeptical. I discovered the suppressed Great Barrington declaration. I started doing my own research using public CDC excess death data. And within a few months, I stopped listening to Science, Inc (Fauci et all) completely.
That shift has remained too. I am far more skeptical of so-called scientific studies today than I was 2 years ago. The overt politicization of the entire scientific establishment (the Nature endorsement of Biden is a small part of that) made it obvious that my beliefs about the objectivity of science were clearly misplaced.
I suspect that’s what this study is capturing. And I do not think this is a bad thing.
But…but surely you realise that the hand of god was protesting the Antifa and BLM during the heady summers of Covid era rioting.
I stopped engaging with the insanity when I saw rightist protesters getting attacked for not wearing masks over the Churchill sculpture debacle while the BLM activists going maskless and breaking restrictions were tolerated by the mainstream press at the exact same time.
It is going to take years – probably decades – for widespread public trust in science to recover. And this will only happen if they stop being political. They have to stop. Or it won’t recover.
This isn’t just limited to Trump supporters. Save for the truly gullible, most people are losing faith in scientists and experts, which is why we are seeing a seismic political shift in the West. It’s a good thing, I think. Clear the institutions of their old cobwebs and let new ideas in – ones not based on neoliberal ideas of scientific management of populations.
Thats because they have turned into priests. Not that I dont like priests, I just dont like mixing my faith with science.
I worked for Nature for many years (mostly in marketing). I first noticed politicisation creeping in around 2016 with editors of some of the minor Nature titles. I remember thinking, the ideas came from USA influence, often through staff who had lived or worked there. My guess is the culture shifted organically, driven by younger editors, rather than being imposed by the chief ed. But it would not happen unless she supports.
I very much doubt Editorship and journalists of Nature – like New Scientist – have much concern for the views of Trump supporters.
When science and politics are mixed, both suffer greatly from the combination. The credibility of science has come from the fact that it was traditionally viewed as apolitical. When it loses that status, it invariably loses credibility. Whatever the justification is, Nature did itself, and all science a great disservice by stepping into the political arena. Scientifically speaking, their position makes no sense. By endorsing Biden, the editors at Nature were attempting to damage the credibility of Donald Trump by using the credibility and good name of science in general. In a sense, this was their hypothesis, that endorsing Biden would result in greater trust in science and scientists, but the scientific evidence presented by this author suggests that their action had the opposite of its intended effect, disproving their hypothesis. They took an action, expecting a certain result and seem surprised that there was a counter reaction of similar magnitude. Perhaps they should have considered another scientific principle, Newton’s third law, in their decision. In my experience, its applications go well beyond the realm of physics. Nature’s doubling down on their failed hypothesis is not very scientific, but it is indicative of bias and political behavior.
Carl Heneghan, Oxford professor of evidence based medicine, gave a great quote, which I will unfortunately only paraphrase. “We have politicians playing amateur scientists and scientists playing as amateur politicians.”
When you mix science and politics, you get politics.
I remember Nature launching a heavyweight attack on Bjorn Lomberg,rounding up six or eight prestigious names to attack him. Trouble was, none of them were economists or climate experts. Needless to say, their criticisms were of the ‘ how dare he oppose the wise ones of the earth’ variety. Well, never read Nature again.
Next time I get a paper rejected from Nature, I will take solace knowing that I have been rejected by better journals. Or at least, ones not corrupted by mixing politics and science.
The only people who have damaged science, possibly irretrievably are journals like Nature and Science, and institutions such as the NIH, CDC and FDA. They discredited/canceled anybody who didn’t go with the narrative Re. Covid (and for that matter climate change), and accused all such people of conspiracy theories. Yet all those conspiracy theories, such as the lab leak (which should have been the default position on the basis of Occam’s Razor) have proven to be correct. When one politicizes science, one reaps the whirlwind.
The irony being that Fauci led, as revealed by disclosed emails, the calls for the authors of The Great Barrington Declaration to be discredited. Accuse your opponents of what you yourself are doing.
Holy holy crap. They have learned nothing.
That Nature could write with a straight face that Biden, with a 40+ year history of lies, fabulism, and plagiarism, would restore “truth” proves how intelligence is no corrective to motivated reasoning and confirmation bias, and may even make them more likely.
“Statements so absurd, only an academic could believe them.”
Biden the “Credit Card” Senator says everything about him.
I believe the scientific terminology for this type of finding is “no shit, Sherlock.”
Nature magazine along with many, many others which I used to enjoy, abandoned the scientific method with adoption of group think and propaganda distribution. “Trust the Science” is polar opposite of the scientific method. I suspect “Global Warming/Climate Change” is the biggest scam in human history in terms of wasted resources, lives degraded or destroyed.
To me there is much confusion here between the terms scientist and science. A scientist is a person working in a particular field in accordance with rules that govern the creation of the body of organized knowledge which is science. Competence in one’s field ensures nothing in any other area. Famously, for a long time, Einstein embraced a political movement that proposed to end war by declining to participate. That, also famously, didn’t work out well in post Weimer Germany.
So I generally trust a scientist who asserts that gene x is expressed in protein y, but see no reason to extend that trust further. And when communications between scientists (e.g. Fauci and others) display contempt for the rules that define scientific endeavors, those persons deserve our disregard and contempt.
Since Nature endorsed the transgender ideology cult I have lost respect for the Journal and its scientists. While battered women’s shelters and rape crisis centers and women’s sports are being destroyed by trans people women continue to be beaten every 18 seconds, raped every 3 minutes and 4 thousand women murdered every year, transcismen continue their attacks on women’s very existence. With the war in Ukraine, the Field’s medal was given to a Ukrainian showing blatant political propaganda and favor. How can anyone take scientific awards seriously anymore. The scandals with the Nobel Prize were bad enough. As a person who loves science this corruption of its integrity disgusts me.
Not Nature’s finest moment.
Mind you Trump was a special case. To quote ‘I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute… is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning?’
When the POTUS says something so daft to millions you can see why the odd scientist will hold their head in their hands.
Nonetheless not something the magazine should repeat, unless we do get into an Orwellian scenario where 2+2=5 is being promulgated by an Oceania 1984 equivalent. Then it’s all hands to the pump.
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