Successful responses to societal challenges require sustained behavioral change. However, as responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in the US showed, political partisanship and mistrust of science can reduce public willingness to adopt recommended behaviors such as wearing a mask or receiving a vaccination. To better understand this phenomenon, we explored attitudes toward science using social media posts (tweets) that were linked to counties in the US through their locations. The data allowed us to study how attitudes towards science relate to the socioeconomic characteristics of communities in places from which people tweet. Our analysis revealed three types of communities with distinct behaviors: those in large metro centers, smaller urban places, and rural areas. While partisanship and race are strongly associated with the share of anti-science users across all communities, income was negatively and positively associated with anti-science attitudes in suburban and rural areas, respectively. We observed that emotions in tweets, specifically negative high arousal emotions, are expressed among suburban and rural communities by many anti-science users, but not in communities in large urban places. These trends were not apparent when pooled across all counties. In addition, we found that anti-science attitudes expressed five years earlier were significantly associated with lower COVID-19 vaccination rates. Our analysis demonstrates the feasibility of using spatially resolved social media data to monitor public attitudes on issues of social importance.
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