Democracy and Mass Skepticism of Science

Junyan JIANG*, Kinman WAN

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


Since the Age of Enlightenment, many thinkers and philosophers have viewed democracy and science as two aspects of modernity that reinforce each other. This article highlights a tension between the two by arguing that certain aspects of contemporary democracy may aggravate the mass public's anti-intellectual tendency and thus potentially hinder scientific progress. The authors analyze a new global survey of public opinion on science using empirical strategies that exploit cross-country and cross-cohort variations in experience with democracy, and show that less-educated citizens in democracies distrust science much more than do their counterparts in nondemocracies. Further analyses suggest that the increase in skepticism in democracies is not the result of greater religiosity or weaker scientific literacy; instead, it is more likely driven by a shift in the mode of legitimation, which reduces states' ability and willingness to act as key public advocates for science. These findings shed light on the institutional sources of science-bashing in many longstanding democracies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)735-778
Number of pages44
JournalWorld Politics
Issue number4
Early online date6 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023


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