Why Scientists Aren't Republicans

Dan Sarewitz writes one of those articles about something that we all know, and that should prove terrifying.

A Pew Research Center Poll from July 2009 showed that only around 6 percent of U.S. scientists are Republicans; 55 percent are Democrats, 32 percent are independent, and the rest "don't know" their affiliation...
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?

Of course, Dan's a political thinker, an iconoclast, a bridge-builder. He goes on to advocate that scientist endeavor to show that they are not mere political shills to conservatives. Scientists have an immensely trusted position in American society (above 90%), and it'd be a shame to throw that away.

I prefer to take the opposite tack. What is it about Republican politics that is anti-science? Could it be that conservative positions on the environment, public health, economics, national security, and the origins of the universe are so obviously counter to reality that no-one who considers themselves both a Republican and an astute observer of a real, physical universe? The level of cognitive dissonance required to maintain both literacy with the frontiers of science, and adhere to conservative ideology is completely unsustainable.

Even more deeply, perhaps there's something implicitly antagonistic about science and conservatism. Science relies on a belief that truth is contingent on What Is, and What Can Be Observed. It does not matter who postulated a theory, as long as it matches reality. And if a theory fails, then it, and all contingent facts should be discarded. Conservatism, the worship of the past and a desire for stability, is antithetical to this project of continually tearing down and rebuilding reality.

Perhaps a better question is: Given that the world today is scientifically and technically constructed, that scientific truths are the 'best' truths, that technological artifacts define our lives, why should we listen to a group which is so fundamentally anti-science?

Not everything is relative. Sometimes there are right answers.

No comments:

Post a Comment