Which Political Party Is Anti-Science?

When there is no news of The Controversy between evolution and creationism, we have to turn to other subjects. But in doing so we stay somewhat on topic by dealing with our larger concern — preserving the values of the Enlightenment, upon which our civilization depends.

Therefore, dear reader, we beg your indulgence as we post yet another Curmudgeonly rant about politics. Go ahead, skip it if you like and wait for something more on topic. We’ll understand. It’s not easy for your Curmudgeon, being virtually the only Republican on the sane side of the evolution-creationism debate. Anyway, you’ve been warned, so here it comes.

Which of the two American political parties is more anti-science? If one is a professional scientist working in academia, that may seem like an easy question, but let’s keep in mind that such a sampling is a tiny portion of the electorate. It’s easy to develop a distorted view of things based solely on the opinions of one’s professional acquaintances.

We’ve discussed this issue before, in Creationism or Socialism: Which is Dumber? (a post which upset most of you), and there we quoted something we said in an earlier post:

[W]e shouldn’t bog down over the fake issue of whether one party is smart and the other is stupid. They’re both stupid. Also, they’re both anti-science, but in different ways. We’ve previously pointed out that the Dems are just plain weird about their environmentalism — no oil drilling, and no nuclear plants either. We don’t know the principle involved (if there is one), but they also seem to oppose all weapons research. Further, they’re shutting down the space program, except, perhaps, for Muslim outreach. So the Dems aren’t very scientific at all.

We just discovered an article from a few months ago on this subject, which is in Reason Magazine . It’s titled Are Republicans or Democrats More Anti-Science?, and although it rambles a bit it makes many of the same points that we do. Both parties have pro- and anti-science positions, but each party opposes the science that challenges its sacred ideology.

We expect you to read the whole article, so a few excerpts will suffice here. These were chosen to illustrate left-wing anti-science views, because we already know about the Republican problem with evolution and climate science. The bold font was added by us:

With regard to nuclear power, the Pew survey found 70 percent of scientists in favor of building more nuclear power plants. For their part, 62 percent of Republicans favored more nuclear power plants, compared to 45 percent of Democrats.

[…]

As law professor Dan Kahan and his colleagues at the Yale Cultural Cognition Project have shown, the strong urge to avoid scientific and technological risk is far more characteristic of people who have egalitarian and communitarian values, that is to say, left-leaning folks. As I reported earlier, according to research by Kahan and his colleagues individualists tend to dismiss claims of environmental risks because they fear such claims will be used to fetter markets and other arenas of individual achievement.

So where are we? Our conclusion is that both parties, like the population as a whole, are mostly ignorant of science, but they tend to have confidence in science where it doesn’t conflict with their other opinions — like religion, environmentalism, “social justice,” etc. In other words, the parties are driven by ideology, not science.

When such ideologies are involved — and those are deeply partisan issues — then science takes a back seat — or it may be tossed out altogether. And that’s true of both parties. Don’t take our word for it, and don’t confine yourself to those in the biological sciences. Ask someone in the energy industry, or who works at NASA.

So don’t be so smug that your political affiliation is the smart one, the one that’s on the side of science. The sad truth is that in politics, science has no friends. All we have are temporarily convenient alliances, and depending on one’s science, we don’t have the same allies.

Having said all that, a question remains: Which party should science support? Neither is a perfect choice, but we’d suggest you pick the one that — despite its foolishness — will be most likely to keep us prosperous and free. Without that, there won’t be any science.

See also: WorldNetDaily: What War on Science?

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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20 responses to “Which Political Party Is Anti-Science?

  1. “Neither is a perfect choice, but we’d suggest you pick the one that — despite its foolishness — will be most likely to keep us prosperous and free.” Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a scientific — i.e. empirical and objective — way of making that choice.

  2. A distinction should be made between denying science and objecting to it’s use. People against animal testing, nuclear energy, embryonic stem cell research, and cloning are not twisting science, they just want to stop certain practices for idealogical reasons and they know it. Since science is morally neutral, it’s reasonable to at times look past “can we?” and ask “should we?” At least scientific discoveries aren’t harmed. What bugs many of us here is when pseudo-science is used to back things up that lack evidentiary support from correctly applied scientific practices. This pervades political speech left and right.

  3. Yes, both parties are stupid. Insanely stupid, and both pretty useless generally. And for many more reasons than their respective blinders when it comes to science.

    Yeah, I’m in kind of an anti-election, anti-politics mood right now.

  4. If one accepts the premise that both major parties tend to use, manipulate, ignore, and disparage science as is suits them, respectively, and further one accepts the premise that whatever government does, it tends to do badly, inefficiently, and with maximal unintended (usually negative) consequences, then I argue that one should look to the party that seeks to do the least, as it will result in minimizing the abuse of science while also minimizing the unintended negative consequences of grandiose government.

    I thus support candidates who tend to a more libertarian outlook, whenever possible, which is usually not very often.

    To the extent we can crowd-source funding of science directly, we ought to start doing it — at the very least, people will vote with their money, and eliminate the political overtones that always accompany government-funded science.

  5. Ceteris Paribus

    Depends on whether the pursuit of “science” is taken be part of an open ended philosophical world-view, or is taken to be a tool that serves a pre-suppositional teleological end game. In the first instance, probably the Democratic party would have the edge, and in the second instance likely the Republican party would provide the most support to science. But each party contains outliers that confound strict party lines, such as the benighted anti-vaxxers Jenny McCarthy and Robert Kennedy Jr.

    So let’s take a look at party differences that have worked to the detriment of science and see if that can help decide. Using the example of stem cell research restrictions, the Republican party’s dogmatic stance on that single issue has cast a dark shadow on the the entire enterprise of science as worthwhile intellectual pursuit.

    But for sheer gratuitous evil done to the detriment of US science, nothing surpasses what Ronald Reagan did when he took office and put the kibosh on the US metrication process that Gerald Ford had signed into law only a few years earlier. Regan of course only wanted to protect us from the SI system used by godless commies, and Canadians. Now, forty years later, US school kids are still messing around with science textbooks using arcane US conventional units, and each US generation falls farther behind the science skills of our international competitors.

    There’s not much to be said about Libertarian influence on US science. Long ago Francis Bacon envisioned that modern science would make progress best as a collaborative and incremental enterprise. That methodology doesn’t fit well with a world view that places a higher value on the sporadic output of independent, eccentric geniuses such as Tesla. Especially if the genius can apply for a patent in his own name rather than a state university. So for state support of science, the Libertarians aren’t even in the same game with the major parties.

  6. The current batch of White House folks just proposed a really deep cut in NASA’s planetary science programs for 2013 – planetary geologists were howling (literally – I was there) at the recent Lunar & Planetary Science Conference in Texas. That’s pretty suggestive evidence that Dems don’t have an inherent love for science. Neither party impresses me. Politicians in general don’t impress me.

  7. As a reluctant Republican since the 90s, and a reluctant Democrat before that I too think that both parties do science a disservice. I’m not exactly libertarian either (sometimes I think I’m the only true social conservative left given todays self-described social conservatives’ preoccupation with how others ought to behave, and what their children ought to learn in science class), but I appreciate Ronald Bailey’s comments about science and science education (even when I don’t agree 100%). IMHO, 15 years ago he hit the nail on the head about anti-evolution activists. Sadly, most fellow critics even now dismiss Bailey’s assessment as wrong, or at least unimportant, and prefer to criticize what “creationists” believe (as if anyone can read minds), instead of what the anti-evolution activists do. There are snake oil buyers and snake oil sellers. Although it’s often hard to tell which one a particular individual is (and some sellers are buyers too), it makes no sense (and is bad PR to boot) to lump them all together, slap a “creationist” label on them – especially since many “evolutionists” call themselves “creationists” too – and complain about their “sneaking in God.”

  8. Gabriel Hanna

    @ceteris parabis:
    Regan of course only wanted to protect us from the SI system used by godless commies, and Canadians. Now, forty years later, US school kids are still messing around with science textbooks using arcane US conventional units, and each US generation falls farther behind the science skills of our international competitors.

    Metric units are not any more “scientific” than the traditional English units; they are every bit as arbitrary. As someone who teaches physics at the university level, what is killing US students in science is their inability to cope with arithmetic and algebra, as well as their difficulties with basic reading and writing skills. Metric units they have seen in all of their science classes all through school, as a cursory examination of state standards would show you.

    The US was not any more metric in the 50s and 60s when we had better scientific education than we do know.

  9. Gabriel Hanna

    Now that I think of it, making a completely bogus post hoc ergo propter hoc argument, unsupported by any sort of evidence, in order to take a swipe at a Republican President, is exactly the sort of thing SC is talking about.

  10. Curmy,

    Using the term ‘socialist’ to describe your Democratic Party is reminiscent of the way that Ken Ham uses ‘evolution’ to describe cosmology!

    It’s misusage like that that makes us weak-kneed wimpy Yurpeens think that everyone over there keeps a bazooka under the bed and belongs to a megachurch.

    You do, don’t you?

  11. Amadan asks: “You do, don’t you?”

    Of course not, you’ve got it completely backwards. The bazooka is on top of the bed, where I can get to it quickly. I sleep under the bed, where I’m less exposed to the commies.

  12. Tomato Addict

    Will you folks stop being so reasonable and well informed? Cut the polite discussion and start arguing already! ShEEsh!!

  13. Ah. I seeeeeee

    But what about these guys?

  14. I agree with much of Curmy’s main conclusions, what really obtains depends upon both time and place – time and place! When I lived in Rhode Island through the 1960’s I was mostly Republican in the vain of Rockefeller and John Chaffee – fiscally conservative, but with at least a modicum of social justice. I even worked to help Chaffee. BUT, here in Oklahoma, this reddest of states, I can count on one hand the Republican legislators that are not anti-science, anti-intellectual, Bible spouting, anti-gay, ignoramuses. The infamous Rep. Sally Kern and Sen. Inhoffe are good examples. That is not to say that some of the Democrats, really DINOs, are almost as bad (thus supporting, in part, Curmy’s point), but many of the minority Democrats support good science and education. All one has to do is to examine the voting of the two parties in the Legislature. Unfortunately, here almost all Republicans are persuaded to vote for every bad bill considered. As of now, in Oklahoma, I have no choice but to be a Democrat. I would like to see things change, but forsee no real progress in the near future. It depends upon – time and place.

    I now go back to pounding the keys to try and defeat Kern’s creationist HB 1551 that has passed the House with an overwhelming majority and is in the State Education Committee,dominated by conservative religious Republicans that are likely to vote for the bill. If it passes the committee next Monday, it will pass on the Senate floor and will be signed into law by a regressive Republican Governor. We have won these battles for 11 years, but this year may not be a good one for science and education and we could join Louisiana (and maybe Tennessee) with the creationist law.

  15. retiredsciguy

    @vhutchison: Sorry to hear of the gloomy state of affairs in Okla. Certainly not OK. Afraid the same is happening in Hoosierland as well, with the voucher law passed last year.

    @Tomato Addict: Thanks for the reminder of the humor and cleverness of Monty Python!

  16. Here’s a point to ponder: as per vhutchison’s comment, the Oklahoma Republicans are knuckle-dragging anti-science nitwits, but in NH, as the Curmudgeon recently reported, the loathsome anti-Evolution bill went down in flames in a massively GOP controlled legislature with something like only 7 votes in support in a 400 seat chamber. Clearly, Republicanism, per se, isn’t the operative factor in determining whether or not they are science kooks.

    I think this fairly well proves that it isn’t party label that matters when it comes to science. It’s the legislator’s underlying worldview that comes into play.

    This explains why Creationists are the kooks they are, and how rabid far left environmental zealots can be just as kooky — both see the world through a sort of theological distortion lens — one a religious theology, the other what might be called an “environmental theology,” but both faith based. One gives us anti-evolution kooks, they other crackpots who want to ban bis-phenol A and smart meters, and try to run the entire modern industrial world on solar cells, wind mills, and unicorn farts.

    Political ideology appears to be only a coincidental correlation.

  17. Longshadow: “Political ideology appears to be only a coincidental correlation.”

    It amazes me how “evolutionists” stop thinking like “evolutionists” and start talking like creationists when it comes to anti-science demographics (“evolutonist” and “creationist” “kinds” and all). If I may use “evolutionist” language I would say that the reason that the % of evolution-deniers is somewhat higher (nowhere near the all-or-nothing caricature) among political conservatives is one of those “historical accidents.” Also, thinking “phylogenetic trees” instead of “kinds,” it makes more sense to speak of pro-science vs. anti-science as the main division, and evolution-denial vs. other science-denial as a secondary one. Once someone is anti-science, then they pick-and-choose only the facts that support their ideology, whatever it is. Many of them eventually realize that they have been making a grave mistake, and that one cannot play favorites with facts, but by then they are too invested in selling snake oil to others to ever admit that they chose the wrong path.

  18. @longshadow

    Political ideology appears to be only a coincidental correlation.

    Polling indicates creationism is bipartisan. Approximately 60% of self described Republicans are creationists, but also about 40% of self described Democrats and 40% of Independents.

    One can find plenty of anti-science ignorance at both ends of the political spectrum if one looks for it. Lawrence Summers found some on the Left. However, for the most part the MSM only looks for it on the Right.

  19. retiredsciguy

    Jack Hogan: “However, for the most part the MSM only looks for it [anti-science ignorance] on the Right.

    Probably because the majority of the main-stream writers and reporters are on the Left, eh? They don’t want to call themselves stupid.

  20. retiredsciguy

    longshadow: “…crackpots who want to …try to run the entire modern industrial world on … unicorn farts.”

    Love it! Since our president has proclaimed that oil is “yesterday’s fuel”, I wonder what he is proposing we use in “tomorrow’s jets”? Perhaps you have found the answer, Longie.