Liberal and conservative book buyers like different kinds of science

Ars Technica » Scientific Method 2017-04-07

(credit: Photograph by CCAC North Library)

Though science is supposed to be about objective interpretations, science often finds itself at the heart of political debates. The intermingling of political and scientific beliefs leads to a pretty obvious question: does political affiliation inform consumption of science, or does consumption of science inform political leanings? A recent paper published in Nature suggests that political and scientific beliefs go hand in hand, which may contribute to the “echo chamber” phenomenon.

This study looks at consumers’ online book purchases at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Using this data, the authors tried to tease out whether people co-purchase books on political and scientific topics. They started by identifying political books, classifying them as either "conservative" or "liberal" based on their content. Additionally, the authors looked at books that contained scientific information, dividing them into scientific domains. Then, they looked for relationships between purchases of liberal/conservative books and books that covered specific scientific fields.

The good news is that everyone loves science. The data shows that people who buy books with overt political content (both liberal and conservative) are more likely to purchase books about science compared to books on other subjects. This initial piece of information reinforces the researchers’ hypothesis that science has political relevance.

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