This is best understood in the context of the Moral Foundations Theory, which asserts ethical norms can be categorized into two broad classifications: “individualizing” ones, which prohibit harming others and encourage fairness for all; and “binding” ones, which are based on notions of purity, loyalty, and deference to authority. Broadly speaking, the first set guides liberals’ moral thinking, while the second resonates with social conservatives.

The transgressions the scientists were seen as being more likely to commit generally fit into the “purity” realm. This provides one answer to the question of why conservatives are more likely to distrust scientists: Many see them as treading into forbidden territory.

Additional studies found Americans “tend to view scientists as goal-oriented, emotionless robots.” On the plus side, they are seen as more trustworthy than members of many other groups. Participants also agreed that scientists can believe in God, although they are “somewhat less likely than a regular person to do so.”