The scientists’ war on Republicans

In yesterday’s Slate, Daniel Sarewitz has a remarkably snarky and unreflective piece, “Lab politics,” accusing scientists—who are mostly Democrats—of subordinating scientific truth to an explicitly political agenda. (Sarewitz, director of the Consortium for Science, Public Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University, was trained as a scientist: he has a Ph.D. in geology from Cornell.)

Here’s his logic.   A Pew survey last year showed that 55% of American scientists are Democrats, 32% are independent, and only 6% are Republicans (the rest “don’t know”).  Further, the political parties diverge strongly in how they feel about issues like climate change.  While 66% of Democrats say that the results of human activity on climate are being felt now, only 31% of Republicans agree.  From this Sarewitz suggests darkly that scientists’ warnings about global warming reflect not the data, but our commitment to types of social change that are advanced by the controversy:

Or could it be that disagreements over climate change are essentially political—and that science is just carried along for the ride? For 20 years, evidence about global warming has been directly and explicitly linked to a set of policy responses demanding international governance regimes, large-scale social engineering, and the redistribution of wealth. These are the sort of things that most Democrats welcome, and most Republicans hate. No wonder the Republicans are suspicious of the science.

Think about it: The results of climate science, delivered by scientists who are overwhelmingly Democratic, are used over a period of decades to advance a political agenda that happens to align precisely with the ideological preferences of Democrats. Coincidence—or causation? Now this would be a good case for Mythbusters.

. . . The climate debacle is only the most conspicuous example of these debilitating tendencies, which play out in issues as diverse as nuclear waste disposal, protection of endangered species, and regulation of pharmaceuticals.

Sarewitz’s solution?  More Republican scientists—and a call for us to investigate why there are so few of them:

Yet there is clearly something going on that is as yet barely acknowledged, let alone understood. As a first step, leaders of the scientific community should be willing to investigate and discuss the issue. They will, of course, be loath to do so because it threatens their most cherished myths of a pure science insulated from dirty partisanship. In lieu of any real effort to understand and grapple with the politics of science, we can expect calls for more “science literacy” as public confidence begins to wane. But the issue here is legitimacy, not literacy. A democratic society needs Republican scientists.

It is interesting that so many scientists are Democrats.  It’s not clear whether those with Democratic leanings are more likely to go into science, or whether being in science reinforces views that align with Democratic politics. Likely both are involved.  I suspect, for instance, that it has something to do with love of the truth, which feeds into both correlations.  Regardless, though, it’s pure sophistry of Sarewitz to suggest that something like global warming is a scientific controversy manufactured purely to push a liberal agenda.  The alternative view is that the facts have convinced scientists that global warming is real and has dire consequences, and that—since we’re not Republicans—we don’t care to hide these consequences to protect business and industry.

Curiously, Sarweitz also notes that despite the Democratic leanings of scientists, 90% of Americans trust the scientific community as a whole—more than any other institution including the Supreme Court.  Why would that be, unless the public senses that scientists are more objective than members of other institutions, and less willing to corrupt their pronouncements in the service of politics or philosophy?


94 Comments

  1. Posted December 9, 2010 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    A democratic society needs Republican scientists.

    That line scares the shit out of me.

    It stinks to High Heaven of the Party controlling research, of researchers only being allowed to pursue and publish that which the Party has already independently determined to be “true” and “profitable.” It’s not hard to imagine labs required to hire Party overseers who have final authority on everything that goes on in the lab. It’s the surest method of self-destruction I can imagine.

    Then again, it’s exactly what’s been going on in Washington for at least a decade, now.

    Be afraid. Be very afraid.

    b&

    • gillt
      Posted December 9, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      But there’s plenty Republican-based research. It’s just that it comes from think tanks and isn’t actually science.

  2. Posted December 9, 2010 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    Reality has a liberal bias. ’nuff said.

    • Posted December 9, 2010 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      Bah, I knew somebody was going to beat me to that comment.

      It’s a well-known liberal bias, FWIW…

  3. Sajanas
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Thanks for responding to this. I’ve been feeling let down by Slate’s science coverage for a while (since it mostly tends to be done by non scientists).

    I’ve always found that the Republicans have approached science from a very practical “what are you going to do for me” view. They want better cars, medicine, bombs, computers, etc, and they want all that research privatized, because everything works better when its privatized. However, being a scientist doesn’t always mean being interested in topics that have immediate practical gains. Being interested in bacteria does not always result in you working on drug development, sometimes you’re schlepping around Yellowstone or the ocean floor looking for interesting strain. Pure research like that certainly can produce useful products (like Taq), but it doesn’t always do that. It does always increase our knowledge of the world, and pure research benefits a lot for government funding. I think that’s part of the reason why so many scientists are not Republicans, even the ones who work at private firms. Long term research is not always profitable (or at least, immediately so), nor is the development of life saving vaccines for third world diseases, new physics experiments, research into exotic materials that may not have applications, and the like. If Republicans ever start supporting pure research and get over their privatization fetish, maybe more scientists will vote for them.

    • Sajanas
      Posted December 9, 2010 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      And that’s without even considering that the Republican party is filled with Evangelicals that want to impose their anti-evolution, anti-abortion, anti-reason agenda on everyone.

    • nichole
      Posted December 9, 2010 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      You make several good points. If Republicans want scientists to be Republican, then they should stop trying to pull their funding. And stop making fun of fruit fly and volcano research. And stop being anti-intellectual. Couldn’t hurt!

      • Sajanas
        Posted December 9, 2010 at 9:10 am | Permalink

        One of my friends who is a primate anthropologist had a friend’s doctoral thesis brought up in congress as an example of ‘wasteful spending in science’.

        Never mind that it was a perfectly good use of grant money for her field, and that studying other animal behaviors leads some insight into our own, they have to have some sort of profitable product come out of everything.

      • Posted December 9, 2010 at 9:22 am | Permalink

        The fruitfly thing really blew my mind. Did these people not finish high school? I remember doing experiments on Drosophilia in high school biology class. It’s one of the most widely used genuses for studying genetics — duh!

        “And while we’re at it, what’s with these electron microscopes? They can’t even see electrons! And yet scientists still insist on using these defective products. Throw ‘em out!”

        • Posted December 9, 2010 at 11:27 am | Permalink

          Finish high school? Perhaps.

          Pay attention? No.

        • Mike from Ottawa
          Posted December 10, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

          It’s worse than just dissing Drosophila. The fruit fly the research was being done on was the Mediterranean fruit fly (and Republicans laughed at why someone in America was researching Med flies) which is an economically important pest on fruit crops at least in California if not more generally in the USA. That particular expression of disdain for reseach was in regard to the kind of research you’d think even the dumber Republicans could understand.

          • nichole
            Posted December 11, 2010 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

            Yeah, and volcanoes never hurt anyone, right? What DO Republicans think should be studied, anyway?

  4. Insightful Ape
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    The truth, obviously, has a shameless liberal bias.

    • Posted December 10, 2010 at 5:59 am | Permalink

      Of course. Look where the Republicans are found. Boardrooms, Churches, think tanks, the right side of the isle in Congress.

      Not a lot of respect for truth in any of those institutions.

  5. daveau
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Oh, yes. Scientists are in league with the Democrats to push a liberal agenda, and have been doing that for years. See? Proof that global climate change is a conspiracy. It makes my head hurt.

  6. Posted December 9, 2010 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    “Why are most scientists democrats?” is a really interesting question, but one that should be thought of in the context of why people become scientists (or something else) and why people adhere to political party affiliations.

    Thinking about related causes suggest various versions of the above question:

    1. Which sciences are more or less republican (or democrat)?

    2. Why do people become republican or democrat? Why do some switch parties?

    3. Why do people typically become scientists? Why do some switch careers into our out of the sciences?

    Finally, the word “republican” is being used in a very vague sense here – I’m pretty sure he’s going for more than just a diversity of voting records among scientists.

    So what does he really mean by “republican”? Religious? Socially conservative? Fiscally conservative? Anti-big-government? Pro-business? Anti-LBGT? Anti-abortion?

    • Posted December 9, 2010 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      Republican in this context should mean ‘voting for the Republican party’.

  7. Posted December 9, 2010 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Republicans have long complained of a liberal bias at universities too. Many more professors are liberal than are conservative. The University of Colorado even created a Department of Conservative Studies (or some such thing) to offset the bias.

    I blame it all on the Scottish Renaissance and John Locke. If only our founding fathers hadn’t read so much science and philosophy! What science clearly needs is a good shot of theology!

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted December 9, 2010 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      Department of Conservative Studies

      Conservatism ought to be studied, as should most diseases. Probably most of the people who would study it in an academic setting are liberal though.

    • Diane G.
      Posted December 9, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      Obviously, we need affirmative action for Republicans. :)

  8. MeAgain
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    By Republican scientist do they mean scientists that support the republican agenda? I think this expects a bias going into the science. You have to let the agenda direct the science. The problem is reflected by the Fox News motto ‘Fair and Balanced’, the point being that with as much spin and bias as they have, they think they are fair and balanced. A feature characteristic of a conservative, especially those in politics, is that the end justifies the means … a bit of a shortcoming for a scientist.

  9. phil
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    To understand why so few Republicans are scientists compared to democrats, one only has to ask how many Republicans are fundamentalist Christians compared to democrats.

    Christianity is a faith, and faith seeks to make a virtue out of ignorance. Does Sarweitz really need someone to explain to him how that attitude is incompatible with a career in science?

    • Posted December 9, 2010 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      And vice versa: how many scientists are not Christians.

    • jdhuey
      Posted December 9, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      I think that this is really the key to explaining why so few scientists are Republicans. I predict that if we can find an equivalent survey from, say the 1960’s, that there would be far more Republican scientist.

      (Also, strictly based on my personal subjective experience, I predict that a goodly portion of engineers are Republican.)

      • phil
        Posted December 9, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

        Yes, Im a software engineer myself, and I though I am a liberal, most of my coworkers are republicans. I read an article a while back saying that a disproportionate number of suicide bombers are engineers. Interesting.

      • nichole
        Posted December 11, 2010 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

        yeah, remember that list they made of PhDs who didn’t believe in evolution? The signers were mostly engineers IIRC.

        Then somebody made that Steve list of PhDs who did believe in evolution and were named Steven, Stephen or Stephanie… hilarious!

        • Microraptor
          Posted December 11, 2010 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

          That was the Discover Institute’s (who else but them, right?) list of 1000 “scientists*” who didn’t support evolution.

          *According to investigators, most of the names on the list weren’t actually scientists or were scientists who’s names were used without permission.

          And the other was the NCSE’s Project Steve, a list of 1000 biologists named Steve (in honor of the late Steven J Gould) who supported evolution.

  10. Posted December 9, 2010 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Sarewitz also misses (or refuses to acknowledge) the long-standing connection between Republicans and the Religious Right. It’s pretty hard to raise little Republican scientists when 30-40% of your base is openly scornful of basic scientific facts, like evolution.

    Even those Republicans who aren’t willing to toss over Logic for Myth are either going to be quiet about it publicly, or alienate a significant portion of their electorate.

    Maybe this would be a question Sarewitz would be better off asking Republicans: “Hey! Where are your scientists?”

    • Michelle B
      Posted December 9, 2010 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      Exactly.

  11. Werther
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Looks like a thinly disguised plea for affirmative action to me.

    Hey, I thought Republicans were AGAINST affirmative action . . .

    • Diane G.
      Posted December 9, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      Oops, I just said the same thing above before reading your comment. Sorry!

      Well, great minds…

  12. Posted December 9, 2010 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    I would very much welcome more republican scientists. A number of outcomes are imaginable:

    1) They will realign their political view with the truth they learn from science (has this already happened?),
    2) they will find that the current democratic scientists have been biased in their science, and new scientific findings will ensue, and/or
    3) science will experience an increased credibility among republicans.

    Either way, we all win.

    • Posted December 9, 2010 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      And of course, in case of 1), these scientists will no longer report themselves as Republicans, so there will again be a lack of Republicans in science.

      • nichole
        Posted December 11, 2010 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

        Less total Republicans in the world sounds like a win to me… All Republicans should start trying to be scientists tomorrow!

  13. Kevin
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    What possible “liberal agenda” could there be in telling the world, “sorry to say this, but we’re cooking the planet to death.”?

    Wouldn’t a liberal agenda, in fact, want to promote economic development, increases in standard of living for the poorest of the poor, which would automatically include an attendant massive increase in the need for fossil fuels?

    Global climate change interferes with an liberal-egalitarian worldview. The last thing the planet needs under a global warming scenario is 3 billion more people who use toilet paper (can you imagine?) and have computers and automobiles.

    I just don’t get conspiracy theorists. Honestly.

    Reality has always had a Democratic bias.

    • lylebot
      Posted December 9, 2010 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      No kidding. Who stands to gain from climate change being true? As the scientists and liberals have been saying, if it’s true we all lose.

      On the flip side, who stands to lose the most if it is true? After all the people that will lose their homes/livelihoods/lives, it’s the oil companies. Gas companies. Coal companies. People who currently have a lot of power and money. If there’s a conspiracy, isn’t it more likely that it’s a cover-up by those people?

      • Microraptor
        Posted December 10, 2010 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

        You obviously haven’t heard about how the liberal climatologists are in collusion with the liberal UN to use global warming as a cover in their attempt to set up the New World Order.

        I can’t make this shit up.

    • Posted December 9, 2010 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      The idea is that combatting climate change will likely require government intervention, as the free market doesn’t appear to want to lower CO2 emissions on their own. <sarcasm>And as any good Republican knows, all Democrats want is more government.</sarcasm>

      I think it’s all a load of projection. The ones who have a real reason to reject climate change on the basis of ideology are the free-market absolutists. The truth is that if climate change is real and man-made (as it appears to be), this would be the biggest failure of the free market ever. It’s not for nothing that climate skeptics are usually either Republican or some sort of libertarian.

      • Kevin
        Posted December 9, 2010 at 11:37 am | Permalink

        Don’t forget the Dominionists.

        They truly believe that Jesus will return when the last tree is felled from the last forest.

        • Posted December 10, 2010 at 3:23 am | Permalink

          True. Though I can hardly imagine a Dominionist who wouldn’t vote Republican.

  14. MadScientist
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Apparently even the foreign scientists are also democrats and part of the conspiracy to re-elect Obama. What the hell is going on in Arizona? It looks like the loonies took over while I’ve been away. Then again, way back then I’d probably have gone “Oh, it’s ASU – that explains everything.”

    • Posted December 9, 2010 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      Didn’t you know? Anything happening outside the US is by definition a liberal conspiracy. We all know that all of Europe is one big socialist-pinko-commy orgy, for instance. Clearly any scientist working in any of those countries has an agenda too.

  15. Matt
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Without even touching the logic of his conspiracy theories, it seems completely backward to blame lack of Republican scientists on scientists. Shouldn’t it be on Republicans?

    • astrosmash
      Posted December 9, 2010 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      yeah…who the hell is stopping them?

    • Posted December 9, 2010 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      You guys are overlooking the Political Liberalism Exam, required of all scientists before they are granted their degrees.

      (OK, if this shows up on Fox News, remember that you saw it first here.)

      • Kevin
        Posted December 9, 2010 at 11:50 am | Permalink

        …not to mention the atheist oath, and the initiation ceremony…baby roast and virgin sacrifice all in the same day.

        Mmmm…baby liver.

  16. GregFromCos
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    One question I would have it how many people have entered a scientific field as a Republican, but then had a change of perspective based on their studies and their experiences within 10 years?

    Depending on the answer to this, how much bias towards Republican students would there need to be? if 50% of incoming republicans to the sciences end up becoming democrats within 10 year, would 75% of the students need to be Republican entering the sciences? I think that shows the silliness of the whole situation, if there is indeed a conversion factor in place.

    • Microraptor
      Posted December 10, 2010 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

      *Raises his hand.*

      Didn’t even take 2 years for me.

    • Lars
      Posted December 16, 2010 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

      Astute observation. I would have considered myself pretty firmly on the political Right until I gradually became aware of the disgusting dishonesty of my fellow-travellers when it came to the environmental sciences, but it took me a lot longer than Microraptor. Once the unravelling begins, though, there isn’t a lot to stop it; it’s a lot more comfortable here on the left, where you don’t have to justify the self-serving lies of power-hungry plutocrats and theocrats to anyone, least of all yourself.

      • Microraptor
        Posted December 17, 2010 at 12:15 am | Permalink

        Well, in my case it helped that it occurred more or less simultaneously with the rise of the Teabaggers, the Republicans abandoning any pretense of being something other than a group of frothing-at-the-mouth reactionaries, some very dirty local politics, and the release of Expelled.

  17. astrosmash
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    also a major difference tween parties is that for republicans, party lolalty trumps principles, and winning is more important than being right….Can’t do science with that value system.

  18. Jeff Campbell
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    I am one of the few Republican scientists I know, and yes, it pains me when the leaders of the party espouse pseudoscientific ideas.

    When I read Sarewitz’ article, I did note his suggestion that the arguments for climate change debate were fueled by partisan politics. What I think (hope?) he actually meant is that the solutions that were usually promoted along with the evidence of climate change were partisan in nature, and that is the failure of objectivity on the part of some scientists.
    I realize that when actually talking to scientists, they usually did focus on the data, and it was the the spokesmen, such as Gore, who tied these conclusions to the liberal solutions.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted December 9, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      … and yes, it pains me when the leaders of the party espouse pseudoscientific ideas.

      Which is pretty much every single day, which might lead me to ask why you still call yourself Republican, except that I don’t care enough to ask.

    • J.J.E.
      Posted December 9, 2010 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      The real problem is that, with a few notable exceptions, Republicans (and more generally, what passes for “conservative” in the U.S.) who are in positions to offer solutions of any kind instead stonewall. It isn’t competing versions of solutions that is argued, it is whether the problem exists at all and if so, whether an attempt at solution should even be made.

      Of course, I’m sure there are the occasional scientists who, out of some misplaced sense of loyalty and a long history of Republican identity, refuse to dump the GOP. But it is high time for them to realize that if they were mainstream Republicans in the 70s that continuing to be a mainstream Republican today requires a huge lurch to the right compared to their previous identity. If it helps decrease their cognitive dissonance they could always say this: “I didn’t leave the Republican party. The Republican party left me.”

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted December 9, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      Seriously? So scientists never talk about solutions? Or do they prefer “conservative solutions” that I haven’t ever heard?
      I have a hunch that if such a thing as “conservative solutions” existed, then Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh wouldn’t be such staunch denialists.

      • Jeff Campbell
        Posted December 9, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

        No, of course they do. But what types of solutions you will consider or implement _is_ political. Recognition that the problem exists is scientific, and feasibility studies should be.

        • Insightful Ape
          Posted December 9, 2010 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

          I am still waiting to hear what solutions to climate change problem conservatives would like.
          Which sounds like an oxymoron given that it is generally dismissed as a liberal invention.

        • Posted December 10, 2010 at 3:28 am | Permalink

          Don’t you think that science (social science, political science, history, etc) have anything to say about which policies are likely to work and which aren’t? The idea that scientists should not talk about policy is ridiculous.

          • Diane G.
            Posted December 10, 2010 at 3:57 am | Permalink

            There’s science…and then there’s social science…

    • Posted December 9, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

      “Liberal Solutions”? One of the main means of reducing CO2 emissions is the introduction of a carbon trading scheme, whereby carbon is licenced and traded on the free market, without the govt setting the price. How much more conservative can you get? Argh! The trading of carbon is as “anti-liberal” as you can get, but that argument disapeared 20 years ago, but it seems the conservatives have not kept up with modern liberal economics.

      • Insightful Ape
        Posted December 9, 2010 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

        Cap and trade used to be a market-based, conservative idea. Just like getting health insurance for everyone through the profit-based insurance system. But both ideas lost their attractiveness to the right. Maybe our friend Jeff can enlighten us why.

  19. Nick B.
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    The most ironic article of the year.

  20. Mirik
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    I’ve been a proponent of the theory that science is just an inherently leftist cooperative and self-critical process in search for truth, clarity and freedom.

    So I would argue that mentally practising science makes people socially engaged, truth-seeking and progressive, thus leftist.

    Makes a lot of sense and seems to fit with the data. Since also much more scientists are atheists as opposed to the rest of country.

    I also feel that neuroscience is starting to show us that we are hardwired to be a cooperative socialistic democratic primate species. That knowledge is powerful stuff.

    Further study required!

    Dogmatic thinking is automatically conservative and like the declining survival possibilities in rotting stale water, there is no evolutionary value in staying in it. Seems to me. So there can’t be a neuroscientific basis for self destruction by stagnation either.

    Though there is an obvious tribal bias and xenophobia which constitutes some of the (current) republican mindset through science.

    Still, when pushed, most people will climb out of that pit and chose to share or learn in a need to engage with others socially. And they can learn to see others as in-group now by internet and the most thin connections, which is a double edged sword of sorts I guess.

    Anyways, love the thoughts on this issue! Thanks!

  21. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Or could it be that disagreements over climate change are essentially political…”

    Could it be that monkeys will fly out of my @$$? I’m just asking questions here.

    For 20 years, evidence about global warming has been directly and explicitly linked to a set of policy responses demanding international governance regimes, large-scale social engineering, and the redistribution of wealth.

    Show us the link. All you’ve got here is a correlation. I learned back in high school science class (or was it earlier?) that “correlation is not causation.” That’s something those pproposed Republican scientists would have to learn too.

    In addition to opposing the science of global warming, Republicans are also over-represented in opposing the science of biology (i.e. evolution.) We must correct for this by appointing more Creationist biology perfessers. Yah, you bet, that would fix it. Now, where exactly are we going, and what are we doing in this basket?

  22. Newish Gnu
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    From the OP: “Regardless, though, it’s pure sophistry of Sarewitz to suggest that something like global warming is a scientific controversy manufactured purely to push a liberal agenda.”

    When my work takes me on long drives into Appalachia, I often find myself listening to christian radio stations (for lack of other alternatives that don’t fade out every time I go around a mountain.) One my “favorite” programs is “Point of View,” a christian public affairs talk show.

    They were discussing the liberal global warming hoax one day when one of the guests piped up with this comment: “Global warming was invented for the sole purpose of promoting abortion. (Several “that’s right”s from the amen chorus.) The liberals say GW is happening because there are too many people and abortion is their way of getting rid of people.” I paraphrase but you get the idea.

    Now Dr. Coyne’s post has me wondering if this meme (science has a liberal agenda) is percolating upwards, downwards, or both.

    • yesmyliege
      Posted December 9, 2010 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

      Wow, you don’t look newish.

      • Newish Gnu
        Posted December 10, 2010 at 9:14 am | Permalink

        Hah! Good one.

        But you are freakishly close to the mark! I am not infrequently assumed to be Jewish. I’m guessing my appearance and my liberalism trip off whatever stereotypes those deluded folks are operating under. And I’m married to a Jew so maybe “it” is rubbing off. So I do get an occasional taste of anti-semitism.

        I’m hoping my Gnuishness will help straighten out the rubes’ misconceptions.

  23. still learning
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    So, Lysenkoism returns…

    Seems to me, curiosity is the basic principle in science. Conservatives tend not to be curious and liberals are, therefore, more liberals would be interested in science.

    • Posted December 10, 2010 at 5:51 am | Permalink

      So, Lysenkoism returns…

      I didn’t want to be the first to go there, but in discussing the impact of ideology on science it’s awfully hard not to go godwin on your asses.

      • Microraptor
        Posted December 10, 2010 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

        Godwin’s Law only counts if someone calls a member of the other group a Nazi. Lysenko was a Soviet.

  24. William Jordan
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    The chief goal of the republican is to impede progress. When they figure this out in a revelation of self discovery, more will undoubtedly become scientists so as to forward the cause.

  25. Darron Knutson
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    I’d guess another reason so comparatively few scientists are Republicans is that Republicans tend to be more interested in business, commerce, and making money than the research and teaching they’d do in a career in science. A cynic would paraphrase Willie Sutton: Republicans avoid science careers because that’s where the money isn’t.

  26. Bartley
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    It’s worth bearing in mind here that the whole point of Slate magazine is mindless, reflexive contrarianism. They’re like Groucho (except they’re serious): “Whatever it is, I’m against it!”

  27. will tomlinson
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    In the deepest sense, science ought not to be politicized at all. This is something I thought we all knew by instinct by now.

    Science and politics — just as science and religion — are two different worldview which often do not mesh.

    • Marella
      Posted December 9, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      Politics is not a world view, it’s the art of getting things done in the real world of people who disagree. It is not incompatible with science at all, though many political ideologies are.

      • yesmyliege
        Posted December 9, 2010 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

        Except 90% of it (politics) is the art of not getting things done right, completely, or intelligently. Politics is usually the very antithesis of good government.

        I would imagine that if all Congressmen were scientists, for a crazy example, and the corruption of outside business interests was not a concern, there would be zero “politics” and 100% efficient and intelligent resolution of national dilemmas. Politics may be useful, but it is never desirable. IMO, of course.

        • Posted December 10, 2010 at 8:49 am | Permalink

          Politics is what happens anytime two or more people communicate in an effort to reach an agreement and act on any subject whatsoever. It is a human and humane branch of philosophy of great antiquity, invented to help prevent human societies from sinking into utter chaos.

          Unfortunately, it can be terribly misused and abused, like any other human activity.

        • Mike from Ottawa
          Posted December 10, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

          Funniest comment prize goes to yesmyliege for his thinking scientists don’t get into fights with each other, even when dealing with the science itself and not politics. The vituperation between Simon Conway Morris (source of the vituperation) and Stephen Jay Gould is but one example.

          There are plenty of things on which reasonable persons, including scientists doing science, can disagree and disagree on heatedly in a world where knowledge is imperfect and where reason often leaves multiple paths open. And that’s even assuming that the scientists involved are solely interested in the science and not ancillary issues like prestige, fame, money, or position, to which influences they are, like all of us, prey.

          • yesmyliege
            Posted December 11, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

            Who said scientists don’t get into fights with one another? My point is that scientists have a talent for evaluating evidence and then making decisions without an easy willingness to subvert the outcome based on special pleadings.

            Our country has many problems each of which have a best solution. Politics is a process which almost invariably results in the best solutions being discarded. It is nearly always antithetical to cooperative problem solving.

  28. Posted December 9, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    The difference between Democrats and Republicans is, the one supports science that gives immediate payoff, while the other supports science that gives a delayed payoff. Both are convinced that Man is a sinner in need of redemption

  29. Posted December 9, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    When I read stories about the republican leadership vowing to block all democratic legislation, the rationalist in me recoils.
    A political party that refuses to consider ideas on their own merits, regardless of source, during troubled times, has no interest in solving problems. Period.

  30. r
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    registered independent but used to vote mostly republican, but im an atheist and a scientist. i didnt leave the republican party, it left me.

  31. Posted December 9, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Oh good! This means I can delete my Slate bookmark. (I’ve never been able to figure out its raison d’etre, anyway.)

    • Posted December 9, 2010 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

      Hitchens writes for Slate. That’s a good reason to keep it.

  32. Adam M.
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    I’d bet that most of the Republican climatologists, too, support the scientific consensus. Would would his response to that be, I wonder?

  33. Posted December 9, 2010 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    The last paragraph emphasizes a paradox that I cannot quite grasp – 90% of the folks trust scientists; 80% of the folks identify themselves as Xians; yet a whole bunch of folks, Republicans and no doubt some Democrats and Independents, don’t accept what science demonstrates. Help!

  34. Tort
    Posted December 10, 2010 at 3:49 am | Permalink

    I think it would be interesting to look at how many of those surveyed considered themselves conservative, moderate or liberal. There is definitely a predominance of liberals in my university but I have met many conservative scientists in private industry. I suspect that if there is a predominance of liberals in science then it is much smaller than the data above. The republican party has taken a strong anti-science stance and that may have pushed away a lot of scientists but I don’t know that it is indicative of the underlying political philosophy.

    • Tort
      Posted December 10, 2010 at 4:59 am | Permalink

      Finally found where the republican/democrat data was in the original report (missed it on first glance). It actually has the liberal/conservative question and it gives the same results as the democrat/republican question. I was wrong, I guess we are a liberal bunch.

  35. Bruce Gorton
    Posted December 10, 2010 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Personally I think a lot of the Democratic leaning nature of science has to do with, I don’t know, the Democrats not being actively hostile to science.

    You know, as in not opposing stem cell research, or trying to get creationism taught as biology, or calling fruit fly research wasteful, or blaming their kids’ poor grades on “liberal bias” in the course material/teachers instead of the whiny brat not studying…

  36. Strider
    Posted December 10, 2010 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Seems to me this guy is the poster boy for projection: He wants to make data fit his political agenda and so he assumes everyone else does, too. He wants to set up what amounts to a “Conservapedia” version of the scientific method.

  37. MikeB
    Posted December 10, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    I would love to see the source for the statement “90% of Americans trust the scientific community”.

    I’m encouraged by that but call me skeptical. :)

  38. Posted December 10, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    This is very angering. When they asked the republican presidential candidates if they believed in evolution, more of them said no then yes, and Mike Huckabee said “I’m running for president, not to be an 8th grade science teacher,” to which I wanted to respond, “but the president of the most powerful country in history ought to be able to pass an 8th grade biology course,” (which of course he cannot).

    Later Sarah Palin called herself a “bible believing christian,” which is fundamentalist code for a fundamentalist.

    Elevating twits to such positions of power has made it impossible to take the republican party seriously, precisely because it conveys a complete lack of respect for objective truth.

    He has the causal mechanism backwards: liberals don’t become scientists, scientists become liberals.

    • Filippo
      Posted December 10, 2010 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

      Just as a Presidential candidate ought to be competent in 8th grade biology, I figure a humanities Ph.D. should be competent to do a two- or three-step algebra problem.


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