As I’ve mentioned before, the once-great scientific journal Nature has been allocating more and more editorial space to woke activism. Among many examples is an article published last year that claimed “gender is neither binary nor fixed”. (Err, nope: “there are two sexes and that’s all there is to it,” as Richard Dawkins said recently.)
In 2020, Nature continued its recent habit of endorsing the Democratic candidate for U.S. President – in this case, Joe Biden. The journal had previously endorsed Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, as well as Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The point, incidentally, isn’t that the Republican candidate was necessarily better; it’s that scientific journals shouldn’t be in the business of endorsing political candidates. The fact that Nature is published in Britain (where the journal was founded) makes its habit of endorsing American politicians all the more bizarre and inappropriate.
To Nature’s credit, it has just published a study which found that its endorsement of Biden made ordinary Americans less likely to trust the journal’s knowledge and impartiality.
Floyd Zhang carried out an online survey where respondents were randomly assigned to one of two groups. Those in the treatment group were asked to read a short message summarising Nature’s endorsement of Biden. Those in the control group were asked to read a short message summarising the journal’s new design. Both messages described Nature as “one of the most-cited and most prestigious peer-reviewed scientific journals in the world”.
Respondents were then asked a number of questions, including “How informed are the editors of Nature?” and “How much confidence do you have in the editors of Nature to provide their unbiased opinions to the public?”
Zhang found that, among Trump supporters, those in the treatment group were much less likely to rate the editors as informed, and were much more likely to say they had no confidence in the editors to provide their unbiased opinions. Among Biden supporters, there were only small differences between the two groups.
In other words: being shown the endorsement, rather than the new design, had a negative impact on Trump supporters’ perceptions of the journal but had no corresponding positive impact on Biden supporters’ perceptions. As a consequence, the overall impact was negative. (Two colleagues and I actually predicted this result in a 2017 paper.)
It’s unclear whether Zhang’s study will convince Nature’s editors to ditch the activism and just focus on science. But its publication is surely a step in the right direction.
Profanity and abuse will be removed and may lead to a permanent ban.