By many accounts the American public is increasingly polarized, partisan and intolerant of other viewpoints. And this problem may be nowhere more evident than in debates over science and religion. To give just one example, when Dr. Francis Collins, a believing Christian, was named director of the National Institutes of Health, prominent scientists objected to the appointment, one saying “I don’t want American science to be represented by a clown.”
Can resistance to free and open dialogue between science and religion be reduced? Are there particular types of information and/or audience characteristics that may provoke, or reduce, a hostile reception? Are there particular mechanisms in the way individuals perceive and evaluate information that provoke defensiveness and a closed mind? Will such factors increase or reduce polarization, influence the desire for discussion or motivate people either to avoid or embrace information that doesn’t conform to their own point of view?
Finding answers to these questions is a central goal of our research lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Our team includes senior researchers, associated faculty and outside experts and a group of dedicated graduate students focusing on social science research. We are currently conducting a series of experiments and field surveys. Stay linked to these pages; we will post study results and related background material as they are developed.