Posted by: Jeff | December 14, 2010

Liberal Science: Mere Correlation or Something Deeper?

Is science incompatible with modern conservative politics?  TNC flags an interesting survey of American scientists in which only 6% self-identify as Republican.  By comparison, 55% self-identify as Democratic.

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.

This seems to me a worrisome revelation. Conservatives, more and more skeptical of science they believe to be intrinsically biased by liberal politics, seek validation in rebuffing credentials in politics. Appealing to fringe scientists is only part of the problem – fringe politicians are even more worrisome. It seems that there really is significant correlation between those that reject science on principle and embrace the naivety and anti-wonk rhetoric of Sarah Palin. As TNC concludes:

Science is very much the preserve of the institutions of higher education where “the elites” plot the subjugation of the common man. Moreover, a trust in science necessitates a trust in “expertise,” and a skepticism of “common sense.”  That basically runs counter to everything Sarah Palin represents.

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