Religion, Science, and Partisan Politics

This morning a Facebook friend posted a link to a two-year old article on the Puff Ho news and entertainment site:

Only Six Percent Of Scientists Are Republicans: Pew Poll

Stephen Colbert commented a few years ago that “reality has a well-known liberal bias” and this survey data may reflect that “bias.”

But let’s look at the finding in detail:

Only six percent of America’s scientists identify themselves as Republicans; fifty-five percent call themselves Democrats. By comparison, 23 percent of the overall public considers itself Republican, while 35 percent say they’re Democrats.

***

Religion also plays a role. Republicans tend to promote the centrality of religion more often than Democrats, and while 95 percent of the public said they believe in “God” or “a higher power,” only 51 percent of scientists claimed either.

“Many Republicans, especially the Evangelical wing of the party, are skeptical of evolution, and have argued for the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in school,” said [Scott] Keeter [Director of Survey Research at Pew Research Center].

The results could merely be a reflection of how scientists see the world, rather than of partisan loyalties. In a series of questions posed, the study found that the answers of scientists were consistently more in line with liberal viewpoints than those of the general public.

“The Republican Party has a number of leaders within it who have challenged the accuracy of scientific findings on issues such as climate change, evolution and stem cell research,” Keeter told the Huffington Post.

So … should we be surprises if a political party that makes a habit of rejecting a scientific reality-based worldview has a problem attracting scientists.  Apparently, the lure of tax cuts for the wealthy is not enough for them to lose their integrity.   Not to mention that many scientists working in academic and other non-profit settings are not that wealthy either.

The strange response to this study comes from Slate:

Lab Politics
Most scientists in this country are Democrats. That’s a problem.

The recommendations in this article are very surprising to me:

During the Bush administration, Democrats discovered that they could score political points by accusing Bush of being anti-science. In the process, they seem to have convinced themselves that they are the keepers of the Enlightenment spirit, and that those who disagree with them on issues like climate change are fundamentally irrational. Meanwhile, many Republicans have come to believe that mainstream science is corrupted by ideology and amounts to no more than politics by another name. Attracted to fringe scientists like the small and vocal group of climate skeptics, Republicans appear to be alienated from a mainstream scientific community that by and large doesn’t share their political beliefs. 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.

***

American society has long tended toward pragmatism, with a great deal of respect for the value and legitimacy not just of scientific facts, but of scientists themselves. For example, survey data show that the scientific community enjoys the trust of 90 percent of Americans—more than for any other institution, including the Supreme Court and the military. Yet this exceptional status could well be forfeit in the escalating fervor of national politics, given that most scientists are on one side of the partisan divide. If that public confidence is lost, it would be a huge and perhaps unrecoverable loss for a democratic society.

The recommendations here are laughable if this problem wasn’t serious.  First, the Republicans have given scientists plenty of reason not to support them.  Second, this idea that scientists need to “earn” the approval of the GOP is backwards.  The GOP needs to earn their approval.  After all, it’s inappropriate to blame reality for having that liberal bias.

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