The Danger of Making Science Political

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Many more scientists identify as Democrats than as Republicans, but threats to scientific thinking can come from any quarter. What must be preserved is the pursuit of science, away from irrational dogma.

Over the past few years, and particularly in the past few months, there seems to be a growing gulf between U.S Republicans and science. Indeed, by some polls only 6 percent of scientists are Republican, and in the recent U.S. Presidential election, 68 science Nobel Prize winners endorsedthe Democratic nominee Barack Obama over the Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

As a scientist myself, this provokes the question: What are the reasons for this apparent tilt?

Some of this unease might be because of the feeling that the Republicans might cut federal science spending. The notion is certainly not helped by news-making rhetoric of some Republicans against evolution in favor of creationism; unsubstantiated claims that immunization aimed at preventing future cervical cancer cause mental retardation in young girls; and unscientific views of how the female body can prevent pregnancies under conditions of rape.

These comments might represent heartfelt beliefs of the leaders in question; however, some might simply be statements designed to placate the anti-science sections of their base, as part of the political calculus.

A recent opinion in the leading science journal Nature, written by Daniel Sarewitz, a co-director of the Consortium for Science Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University, suggests that this polarization of scientists away from the Republicans is bad news. Surprisingly — as he tells it — most of the bad news is the potential impact on scientists. Why? Because scientists, he believes — once perceived by Republicans to be a Democratic interest group — will lose bipartisan support for federal science funding. In other words, they will be threatened with funding cuts. Moreover, when they attempt to give their expert knowledge for policy decisions, conservatives will choose to ignore the evidence, claiming a liberal bias.

The comments of Sarewitz might be considered paranoid thinking on the part of a policy wonk, but he backs up his statement by suggesting a precedent: the social sciences, he feels, have already received this treatment at the hands of conservatives in government by making pointed fingers at their funding. Therefore he says that a sufficient number of scientists must be seen to also support Republicans for the sake of being bipartisan. To be fair to Republicans, no politician has actually targeted science funding in this vindictive manner. But this assessment only goes to show how science is quickly becoming a political football.

Written By: Puneet Opal
continue to source article at theatlantic.com

9 COMMENTS

  1. Ah first in!

    A possible outcome is that scientist may, in the future, feel persecuted sufficiently to take their research to other countries where the pursuit of science is esteemed and supported. An exodus of thinkers would be abominable for the US.

  2. The real reason science has become a political football is republicans are trying to get more voters out. They’re losing their greatest constituency as old people die off every day so they have to delve into ignorant pig people vote. Unfortunately, you have to piss them off to get them off the couch and the best way to do was talking about Blacks and Mexicans taking over. They pretty much reached critical mass with that bit of of fear mongering, not all of pig people hated enough, so they had to turn to the one group that really pisses off all of the pig people, smart people. Scientists are the gift that keeps on giving as long as the republicans can maintain a steady stream of hucksters that sound like what a stupid person thinks a smart person should sound like. Every time science knocks down one of these hucksters they can cry to their slobbering masses that they just can’t get those elitist snobs to listen to good old common sense. The scientists just wanna screw the whole world around to fit their “Facts” and shut up anyone with a different opinion. Thus we get science and scientists belittled by imbeciles who wouldn’t know evidence from a dingleberry for a steadfast legion of mind-numbed robots.

  3. Science has a liberal bias?

    That’s a self contradiction. Science determines the bias one has from reality. Republicans are making themselves anti-scientific.

    It’s a bunch of hogwash anyway. The Republican party is not Conservative anymore. It is Neo-Conservative which is very different. The whole NeoCon strategy was to politicize religion to gain voters or at least the illusion of it, to utilize Noble Lies to unify the country. They hitched their wagon to the wrong pony. It would be like pandering to disco fans as a demographic. They are a waning group disconnected from reality. They wanted to tap the zealotry of religion, and they got infected with Bachmans and Santorums. If they want to continue redefining their party as at odds with science, so the political dichotomy becomes science v. myths, they do so to their own peril.

    It’s a false dichotomy, and it works. Obama, master of drones, king of GitMo, has a Nobel Peace Prize. At least he doesn’t deny vaccines or oppose gay marriage. The pitiful semblance of reason he demonstrates is then lapped up as salvation.

  4. If a “Blob” of politicians – new collective noun for a group of ignoramuses? – can prevent highly gifted, skilled and dedicated scientists from carrying out their work on grounds of superstition, perhaps there should be a seperation of State and science.

    Surely, those standing for election should have more than financial wealth as a qualification. As well as having to pennies, they need to have at least two brain cells to rub together.

    It can’t be beyond the wit of humanity to devise a way of wresting this particular power from them.

    I mean, it wouldn’t peprive them of the opportunity of listening their own resonances would it.

    I’m reminded of the undoubtedly apocryphal story of of a Senator asking a scientist if a certain development would help defend the country; after a moments pause, the scientist said, no, but it would make it worth defending.

    Anyway, something must be done to stop this decline in standards in what is the Nation which still, just, leads the world in science and technology, otherwise that lead willl be lost, and if so, will, in all likelihood never be regained.

    Oh dear, I’ve cheered myself up no end.

  5. There is an obvious reason why science favours Democrats over Republicans, namely every time a republican politician opens his mouth on science it invariably contains some anti-scientific drivel.

  6. In reply to #4 by Neodarwinian:

    Evidence does not have a political slant.

    True!
    But politicians, – particularly those in some parties, often do not have an “evidence slant”, and more often have an anti-evidence slant!

  7. There are political decisions being made on applying science all the time – in transport, food production, manufacturing, communications, energy supplies and in the military.

    It’s just that some politicians are too ignorant and faith-befuddled, to recognise this!

    Over the past few years, and particularly in the past few months, there seems to be a growing gulf between U.S Republicans and science.

    Indeed, by some polls only 6 percent of scientists are Republican, and in the recent U.S. Presidential election, 68 science Nobel Prize winners endorsedthe Democratic nominee Barack Obama over the Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

    As a scientist myself, this provokes the question: What are the reasons for this apparent tilt?

    . . . . . . .. Obvious ! ?

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