When Ideology Trumps Science
Why We Question the Experts on Everything from Climate Change to Vaccinations
by Erika Allen Wolters and Brent S. Steel
December 2017, 181pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-4983-1
$75, £58, 66€, A103
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-4984-8
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

Why are some citizens in developed countries such as the United States discounting science, expert scientific consensus, and the government and instead prioritizing their ideological values?

This book reveals how embedded beliefs more so than a lack of scientific knowledge and understanding are creating a cognitive bias toward information that coincides with personal beliefs rather than scientific consensus—and that this anti-science bias exists among liberals as well as conservatives.

In 2010, an outbreak of whooping cough in California infected more than 8,000 people, resulting in the hospitalization of more than 800 people and the death of 10 infants. In 2015, an outbreak of the measles in Disneyland infected more than 125 people. Both the whooping cough and the measles are vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs) that have been largely nonexistent in the United States for decades. As these cases demonstrate, individuals who prioritize ideology or personal beliefs above scientific consensus can impinge on society at large—and they illustrate how rejecting science has unfortunate results for public health and for the environment.

When Ideology Trumps Science examines how proponents of scientific findings and the scientists responsible for conducting and communicating the applicable research to decision makers are encountering direct challenges to scientific consensus. Using examples from high-stakes policy debates centered on hot-button controversies such as climate change, GMO foods, immunization, stem cell research, abstinence-only education, and birth control, authors Wolters and Steel document how the contested nature of contemporary perspectives on science leads to the possibility that policymakers will not take science into account when making decisions that affect the general population. In addition, the book identifies ways in which liberals and conservatives have both contested issues of science when consensus diverges from their ideological positions and values. It is a compelling must-read for public policy students and practitioners.


  • Provides readers with a clear understanding of how ideology and personal values supersede scientific consensus for people across the political spectrum
  • Identifies key indicators of support for or opposition to current science-policy conflicts
  • Explains how disagreement on issues such as climate change and vaccination results in inaction on these policy issues and negatively affects human and environmental health at the local, regional, national, and global levels
  • Offers insights that may serve to break through the barriers of policy inaction caused by disagreement with scientific consensus
Erika Allen Wolters, PhD, is director of the Oregon State University Policy Analysis Laboratory (OPAL) and faculty member in the School of Public Policy at Oregon State University, where she received a doctorate in environmental science. She has published several book chapters and journal articles, such as "Attitude-behavior Consistency in Household Water Consumption" in Journal of Social Science and "Presidential Science Policy Advisor" in Science and Politics: An A-to-Z Guide to Issues and Controversies.

Brent S. Steel, PhD, is professor at Oregon State University's School of Public Policy. He holds a doctorate in political science and is the author of 27 book chapters and 70 peer-reviewed articles, including more than 15 articles about science and policy. He is also author, coauthor, editor, or coeditor of nine books, including most recently Science and Politics: An A to Z Guide to Issues and Controversies and Science and Problem Solving under Post-Normal Conditions: From Complex Problems to New Problem Solving Strategies.


"Wolters and Steel bring their expertise in policy analysis to bear. . . . Numerous references, tables of polling results, and a brief index add significantly to this text's usefulness for the researcher. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty."—Choice, July 1, 2018
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