Thursday, December 16, 2010

Do we need Republican scientists?

So we have talked already about how educated people increasingly do not identify with the Republicans. We've also talked about how the Republicans cherry-pick fringe science. Not surprisingly, only about 6% of active scientists identify as Republican (but 32% are independent). Daniel Sarewitz in Slate writes
Yet, partisan politics aside, why should it matter that there are so few Republican scientists? After all, it's the scientific facts that matter, and facts aren't blue or red…..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. …A democratic society needs Republican scientists.
Why is this the case? The Economist responds
I can think of three testable hypotheses they might look into. The first is that scientists are hostile towards Republicans, which scares young Republicans away from careers in science. The second is that Republicans are hostile towards science, and don't want to go into careers in science. The third is that young people who go into the sciences tend to end up becoming Democrats, due to factors inherent in the practice of science or to peer-group identification with other scientists.
Well, you could always ask….

I've been a scientist for more than half my life. When you think of the stereotype of the academic loony left and excessive political correctness of universities, that's generally not found in the sciences. Scientists are often quite conservative by comparison. I've know many who are devout readers of the Wall Street Journal. These folks almost certainly identified as Republican in the past: the old-style Republicans, fiscally very conservative and socially more or less libertarian.

But that's before the Republicans started denying science. The Culture Wars I think dismayed a lot of scientists. I suspect a large fraction of those who identify as Independent feel driven out of the current Republican party, which is a friend of the fringe, and actively antagonistic to facts and educational accomplishment. Moreover, part of the ethos of science is to be persuaded by facts. The Republican ethos now is the equivalent of putting its fingers in its ears and singing "La La La I can't hear you!" when presented with facts for example about climate change. The scientists didn't leave the REpublican party. The Republican party changed.

Insofar as the Republicans won't believe scientists, because scientists aren't Republican, yes, there's a problem. But the deeper problem is that the Republicans have politicized science and assume that scientists cannot be trusted if they are not REpublican. I don't know how you reconnect the Republicans with the values of knowledge, evidence and education. Looking at the crap coming out of DC, I despair that you can.


JCF said...

Not quite on-topic, but related:

Young Canadians quitting religion:

A snippet:

The conflict of religious faith and rational thought became no longer containable for Jonathan Bright, a 23-year-old law student at University of Toronto. Six months ago, he quit the Roman Catholic Church. He had kept his mother, a regular churchgoer, informed of the decision taking shape in his mind. Still, he acknowledges, “she was a little upset,” as was his former girlfriend, a devout Catholic.

The final impetus for his decision was both a fresh series of priestly sex scandals and cover-ups in Europe and the force of logic. The constraints imposed by the church no longer made sense to him – on matters such as homosexuality, abortion and contraception. He saw ways to follow an ethical life through the teachings of the law that didn't require some necessary hierarchy.

Interesting use of the term "rationalism" and "rational beliefs." Scratch the surface, and I really don't think young people are leaving (in droves) because the cosmological beliefs---the overarching faith-claims---are "irrational."

It's because the social/ethical beliefs are! (Or rather, that religious morals are, so often, IMMORAL)

Lots of these young people, "we" may never get back...

...but a bunch of them, I think we can get back: WHEN we have morals that are actually moral (Behold TEC!). AND, when the Empty Universe (w/o any Higher Power'd Meaning, per se) no longer "gets you through the night." [Basically, when they come back to us, it'll be through our medical chaplains? Or before then---POTLUCKS! ;-D (or soup kitchens, as likely, as our economy continues to wither. Which sadly, I think it will...)]

MarkBrunson said...

Well, IT, this relates to one of my key arguments: Republicans are not conservatives.

To be a conservative, you have to want to conserve something, and they don't. They want to destroy - science, education, other countries, liberals, free thought - anything that threatens their comfort level. They're radicals, destructive, aggressive radicals.

Counterlight said...

I agree that the liberalism of Academia is way over-stated. I remember in 2004 seeing plenty of Bush-Cheney bumper stickers in the faculty parking lot of the community college where I taught at the time.
I agree that what has really changed is the Republican Party. It has morphed into the political wing of a far-right religious and ideological movement. I also agree that most people who identify as "Independent" these days would probably have been card-carrying Republicans 50 years ago.

textjunkie said...

A friend of mine in engineering pointed out that the proportion of fundamentalist Christians (and religious right Republicans by extension) was much higher in engineering than in the sciences in general. We both figured it was a combination of mindset and peer identification that worked better in engineering than in other academic disciplines.

IT said...

Textjunkie, that is no surprise to me. Engineers are very, very different than scientists, and they tend not to deal with the same kinds of intellectual problems--more about problem solving then "gee, how does this work?" kind of thing. It's a very big cultural difference.