A study that identifies anti-intellectualism as a growing part of rural identities has sparked a discussion about the best ways to encourage rural communities to engage with scientific knowledge.
The study, which originally appeared in the January 2022 issue of political behaviorfound that people with a rural social identification are more likely to see experts and intellectuals as outsiders, according to its author, Kristin Lunz Trujillo, a postdoctoral fellow in the Covid States Project at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and Northeastern University. .
“Feeling psychologically connected to being someone from a rural area shapes your attitude towards other groups in society,” said Lunz Trujillo. newsweek. “People who have this rural identity view experts with skepticism. There is a perception that these experts will come from outside and impose their ideas”.
In his study, Lunz Trujillo said that anti-intellectualism “drives support for phenomena such as populism, the rejection of scientific consensus, and the endorsement of scientific and health disinformation.” Understanding what encourages people to be anti-intellectual is important to understanding public behavior, she said.
In examining the survey data, she found that rural social identification could be used to predict anti-intellectualism, but that anti-intellectualism was not “significantly associated” with rural residence. As a result, she said the “psychological attachment to being from a rural area or small town” is a contributing factor to anti-intellectualism.
As a result, anti-intellectualism appears to be becoming part of the identity of some rural Americans.
The need for local “interpreters”
An article published on political news website FiveThirtyEight said that Lunz Trujillo’s work highlighted the challenges of combating anti-science attitudes, especially with regard to climate change or public health messages, in areas where they would likely prevail.
He suggested that local experts familiar with the communities would likely be able to find more effective ways to communicate with them.
“There are certain experts who are more valued in terms of the rural value of prioritizing practical experience and common sense over the intelligence of books,” said Lunz Trujillo. newsweek.
Examples might include an agricultural scientist or engineer working on local projects, she said, noting that in the past, many universities have used “extension services” to bring agricultural research from their universities to local communities, only to be met with skepticism.
Rural residents, she said, are much more likely to value hands-on, first-hand experience. They are also more likely to distrust centers of power because they are too far away from them.
Rural communities have generally been more hostile to public health messages than their urban counterparts during the pandemic.
Research published in March showed that Americans living in rural areas were less likely to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The study, published in Weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report, showed that the absorption rate of the first dose was 58.5% for rural municipalities, compared to 75.4% for urban ones.
Lunz Trujillo said that outreach is one of the most effective ways to overcome mistrust, particularly where there are trusted individuals in the community who are able to address people’s concerns. In some rural areas, she adds, local experts trusted by the community have held vaccine clinics in homes or other familiar locations during the pandemic.
To achieve public health goals, it is also helpful for prominent individuals to try to go to rural areas to make an effort to show that they are taking concerns and skepticism seriously and addressing underlying concerns.
Above all, experts need to be as transparent as possible.
Lunz Trujillo points out that in the case of COVID-19, “some of the expert opinions were mixed, in part because some of the scientific advice was mixed.”