Can We At Least Agree on Science?
Distinguished Speaker Series
Past Talk
Michael Macy
Goldwin Smith Professor of Arts and Sciences, Cornell; Director, Social Dynamics Lab
Feb 3, 2017
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3:00 pm
177 Huntington Ave
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11th floor

Recent surveys show that public confidence in science remains high, yet sizable numbers of Americans reject scientific conclusions regarding evolution (42%), climate change (33%), and even heliocentrism (18%). In an era of deepening political polarization, can science bridge the cultural divide? To find out, we used a co-purchase network of millions of political and scientific books as a behavioral indicator of political differences in exposure to science. We found that science does not bridge the political divide, it deepens it. In addition, books in commercially relevant applied science (e.g., medicine, criminology, and geology) are more likely to be co-purchased with conservative books, compared to books oriented more to basic science (e.g. physics, astronomy, and zoology). Finally, liberal books tend to be co-purchased with a much broader sample of science books, indicating that conservatives have more selective interest in science. We conclude that the political left and right share an interest in science in general, but not science in particular.

About the speaker
Michael Macy left the farm in Tennessee where he grew up to attend Harvard, where he received his B.A. and later Ph.D, along with an M.A. from Stanford. He is currently Goldwin Smith Professor of Arts and Sciences in Sociology and Director of the Social Dynamics Laboratory at Cornell, where he has worked since 1997. With support from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, and Google, his research team has used computational models, online laboratory experiments, and digital traces of device-mediated interaction to explore familiar but enigmatic social patterns, such as circadian rhythms, the emergence and collapse of fads, the spread of self-destructive behaviors, cooperation in social dilemmas, the critical mass in collective action, the spread of high-threshold contagions on small-world networks, the polarization of opinion, segregation of neighborhoods, and assimilation of minority cultures. Recent research uses 509 million Twitter messages to track diurnal and seasonal mood changes in 54 countries, and telephone logs for 12B calls in the UK to measure the economic correlates of network structure. His research has been published in leading journals, including Science, PNAS, American Journal of Sociology, American Sociological Review, and Annual Review of Sociology.