Anti-Science Republicans Versus Anti-Science Democrats: The Comparison
    By Hank Campbell | September 21st 2011 02:11 PM | 21 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Writing in USA Today, microbiologist Dr. Alex Berezow makes a statement sure to leave the militant left wing who believe all Republicans are mentally Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann sputtering.  Namely, that anti-science Republicans get media coverage but not anti-science Democrats.

    After five years of Science 2.0, if I am making an educated demographic guess, I am inclined to agree there are more anti-science Republicans than Democrats today but I resist sweeping generalizations because, when I was a young guy, it was the other way around.   All the kookiest anti-science positions were adopted by the left wing while Republicans generally accepted that science was out to make the world a better place.  

    What changed in the last 25 years?   Demographics.  While science academia is more diverse in race and gender, it has plummeted to Holocaust levels in political diversity.  There is none at all. The discrimination against conservatives or Republicans, subtle and overt, has been documented many times so I won't go into it here but if I were looking for a reason that Republicans are more skeptical of science than they used to be, it's because they have become more skeptical of the motives of scientists.

    Some positions of the right, like anti-evolution beliefs, are as ridiculous as the anti-vaccine positions of the left.  Berezow is a little more forgiving, calling such areas 'blind spots' but he challenges the media for reinforcing negative stereotypes by perpetuating the myth of the anti-science Republican while never mentioning that some goofy anti-science positions are primarily Democrats.  In defense of USA Today as part of that big media group, they published it.

    Greenpeace insists that you should trust scientists on global warming but not on genetic modification, for example.  In America, Greenpeace members are overwhelmingly Democrats but does the political makeup of the anti-vaccine and the anti-agriculture movement get any attention?  No, yet 'stem cells' get trotted out again for Republicans, though, despite the fact that Republicans never objected to 'stem cells' in 40 years and even human embryonic stem cells were only limited(1) to existing lines - and then only if federal money was involved, because it was a violation of the Dickey-Wicker Act made into law by Democrat Bill Clinton to prevent research on embryos.

    Pres. George W. Bush is reviled by Democrats, as is Ronald Reagan, but Bush reversed the science funding decline that occurred during the Clinton years and doubled NIH funding and boosted NASA after 8 years of decline.  Republican Pres. Ronald Reagan gave a public address providing the single greatest defense of basic research in presidential history. Yet they were supposedly anti-science.

    Berezow punctures the myth that only hESC research and evolution and global warming are science positions under attack.  The organic food hype and anti-vaccine hype (often the same people because of their 'natural' fetish) is silly but the anti-GMO hysteria is far more of an insult to science than hESC ethical concerns ever were.  The anti-GMO campaigns are blatantly anti-science because almost every molecular biologist in the world knows GMOs are not making people sick.  There are more, of course. PETA is not a right-wing group, nor are opponents of nuclear power.

    Republicans aren't perfect but they don't have a monopoly on scientific illiteracy. After all, in 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama got a razzie award from Sense About Science for saying the same thing that Michele Bachmann said last week about the potential dangers of vaccines.  Yet who in the media ever mentioned it?


    (1) And by 2007 even Republicans were satisfied the ethical issues were resolved, so in 2009 Pres. Obama did one of his many 'safe' changes and made the restrictions less.  He didn't lift them, he simply changed the guidelines, yet no one ever complains Pres. Obama is anti-science for limiting hESC research.   Regardless, the media perpetuates the myth of hESC objections by Republicans even though no actual poll shows it.


    If the question is simple numbers, I'd have to agree. Just as many left wingers hold just as many anti-science beliefs as right wingers do. However, it's not so simple. There are two important difference that you don't address.

    One difference has to do with the degree to which the beliefs are contradicted by scientific evidence. Anti-GMO beliefs and anti-evolution beliefs both go against the prevailing science, but the safety of GMO foods is nowhere near as well established as the truth of evolution. Similarly, the safety of GMO foods isn't central to scientific thought to the degree that evolution is. Both beliefs go against our current best science, but one of them is far more anti-science than the other.

    A second difference has to do with political centrality. Few serious Democratic candidates take anti-science positions as major planks of their candidacy. In contrast it's fairly common for Republican Candidates to do so. The situation is admittedly somewhat different in Europe where anti-GMO sentiment runs stronger. Anti-science beliefs tend to be seen as fringey on the left, but as mainstream on the right.

    As for the historical difference, 40 years ago the parties weren't so idealogically aligned. It was pretty easy to find conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans back then. Now those subspecies are nearly extinct.

     Similarly, the safety of GMO foods isn't central to scientific thought to the degree that evolution is. Both beliefs go against our current best science, but one of them is far more anti-science than the other.
    You're picking a subjective metric and declaring it paramount; GMO foods have fed millions of people and never caused so much as a stomach-ache but not accepting evolution does not kill people or cause children to starve.   It is truly only a rich country that can worry about teaching evolution versus how to grow enough food and keep it from spoiling, like people in India face.

    I agree on your second half - the only 'Scoop Jackson' Democrat (a conservative who believed in defense) today, Joe Lieberman, got thrown out of his own party because he wouldn't toe the line.   The public made that happen, though, political parties do not organically polarize.  When people made it clear that abortion and gun control were hard-stop issues, for example, the parties adopted those.  Neither of those issues get mentioned in campaigns any more but the positions remain.
    You're picking a subjective metric and declaring it paramount; GMO foods have fed millions of people and never caused so much as a stomach-ache but not accepting evolution does not kill people or cause children to starve.

    Not at all, Hank. First off, the metric isn't particularly subjective. Second I haven't made it paramount. Third, the metric you suggest in response has exactly nothing to do with whether the belief is ant-science.

    Certainly there are cases in which rank the degree of centrality comes down to some sort of subjective assessment, but that's not the case in the example I gave. Very little science hangs on the question of whether GMO foods are safe. If someone came out tomorrow with conclusive evidence that GMO foods were harmful, most science textbooks would continue unchanged. But if someone came out with conclusive evidence that evolution was false, the fallout would be massive.

    Of course you're right that the belief about GMO foods has other kinds of effects. I've said nothing about those. I merely pointed out that there were reasonable metrics that you left out that were relevant to the question you brought up. I didn't say they were the only other metrics or that they were inherently more important. They are reasonable metrics and they do help explain why conservatives are currently seen as more anti-science - they help explain the data that you have to attribute to brute bias. A model that includes them provides a clearer picture than one that excludes them.

    Finally, the fact that anti-GMO beliefs result in needless death and suffering is simply irrelevant to the question of whether those beliefs are anti-science. Those effects bear on whether the beliefs are humane, not whether they are scientific. I happen to agree with you that these effects are critically important. Nonetheless they are irrelevant to the point you initially raised and they are indeed subjective.

    I certainly contend that any anti-science belief that limits our ability to feed people is important, even more important than educating the public on something that, on a daily basis, doesn't impact their lives at all.  Since there is no evidence of any GMO harm the only thing left is anti-science use of the precautionary principle, the same defense used by global warming deniers and that was the defense used when hESC research was an actual controversy.

    You and I are obviously not doing that but if scientists (and science writers) are going to remain trusted guides for the public we have to note when politically aligned groups are off the mark and being scientifically illiterate. 
    ok, clearly I haven't figured out how to quote. The first paragraph of my reply should have been a quote of Franks comment.

    "The discrimination against conservatives or Republicans, subtle and overt, has been documented many times so I won't go into it here..."

    No, really, why not go there? Where are all of these studies documenting discrimination against conservatives and Republicans in academic science? Give us some examples.

    "...While science academia is more diverse in race and gender, it has plummeted to Holocaust levels in political diversity...."

    I really dislike mealy-mouthed terms like 'insensitive', so let's just say that comparing conservative academics to Holocaust victims makes you sound like an ass.

    Here you go.

    It doesn't document discrimination, but there sure is a huge discrepancy in the political views of scientists. And if we were talking about any other classification of people being this imbalanced, there'd surely be huge outcry over it.
    Never is a long time.
    Exactimundo. It doesn't document discrimination. You made a claim that there's discrimination in academic science against conservatives/Republicans, and you claimed that there was lots of documentation of that discrimination.

    You can't support either of those claims that you made. So what are they, besides the right-wing version of 'political correctness'?

    I've written on this subject dozens of times but, as I said, it is outside the scope of this article.  Now, you can certainly contend there is no discrimination anywhere in academia; not against handicapped people, black people, women or Republicans.  It could certainly all be choice that account for under-representation.   Yet a whole lot of those groups contend otherwise and I have yet to see a progressive argue against that so if suddenly Republican representation is the only time it is a choice, it says nothing except how you vote.
    You've documented discrimination against conservatives/Republicans in academic science? Really? Where? Some links at least, please. And note that the mere fact that you're aggrieved with left-wingers and lack a sense of proportion (viz, the Holocaust quote) doesn't count as evidence of such discrimination.

    You'll have to pardon me if I don't jump at the command of an anonymous progressive on the Internet who can't be bothered to put in a term and click Search in a little box.

    Now, if you are claiming all racial/physical/gender disparities in academia are choice, and not just Republicans not being in science, come out and identify yourself and say so.   
    That's Science 2.0? You get information on a phenomenon by Googling it? Wonderful... I was under the impression that when you talked about evidence, you meant more than the kind of 'research' that gives students in my first-year classes an F.

    I'm well aware of the work of Jonathan Haidt and other researchers on this topic and, for what it's worth, none of them has said anything as bone-headed as that section of your post. What's been documented is a disparity of political stances in academia: discrimination is inferred by some people from that disparity, but it has not been documented.

    You will note the differences in institutional histories involved in that particular disparity and in racial/gender disparities in academia: I'm not aware of any history of Jim Crow laws and 'separate but equal' education designed for conservatives in America, for example. Moreover, college never turned a black man into a white one, or into a woman, whereas ideological leanings are considerably more malleable. If you want to account for that political disparity, you're going to have to account for a lot of factors before you can claim discrimination.

    But why would you bother about that? You're too busy whining about bias, and comparing yourself to what? A Holocaust survivor?

    That's Science 2.0? You get information on a phenomenon by Googling it?
    No, the search box on the site, but this part and the rest of your comment are indicative of your lack of reading comprehension and your sense of entitlement.  You're trying to rationalize how disparities in racial and gender demographics are not a choice but the lack of Republicans is a choice.   The fact remains if a university science department were rife with jokes about black people or women, they would not be comfortable there but a plethora of Republican jokes means nothing. And if someone who does not like women were to know the candidate was a woman they will be inclined to dislike their candidacy.  That is why the few Republicans in academia are forced to hide.

    You wouldn't know that because your white, male privilege makes you think it doesn't happen - everyone can see it except you.

    (Shrug) Show me the data. (You do remember that word, right?) I've participated in lots of academic job searches, and I have no idea where in that process I'm supposed to have been able to inquire into political leanings.

    " ...if someone who does not like women were to know the candidate was a woman they will be inclined to dislike their candidacy."

    Right. But y'know, it's often pretty easy to tell if a candidate is a woman, especially when they show up for an interview: different first names, they dress differently, you could even look at the phenotypic traits. Care to elucidate how your hypothetical liberal member of a search committee, out for conservative blood, is supposed to detect those self-same conservatives?

    Haidt, at least, noted the variety of factors that probably affected the disparities in political affiliations. You're just whining.

    What whining?  I am not in academia and never have been so their policies don't impact me in the least.  Again, you don't know me from anyone so you will have to either do a search or continue to spin in your misguided indignation, but I have defended academia from charges of bias far more often than literally every academic I can find.

    You are clearly upset because you can't accept that there are lots of anti-science left-wing people, but that is your own bias, not mine.  You get to cower behind anonymity but, again, my name and my work is here and easy to find.
    Why the other way around 25 years ago?
    Because 25 years ago, Democrats still have a lot of conservative Southern members, called Dixiecrats, in the party. They finished migration to the GOP at the time of election of Clinton. That's why most of Democrat house and senate incumbents in the South lost election in 1994. Rick Perry was once a Democrat and campaigned for Gore in Texas in 1988.
    Many conservative Democrats 25 years ago are now conservative Republicans. Although it started under Nixon due to Civil Right Movement and Nixon's Southern strategy.

    Perhaps, though I have instead contended it is because of the demographic shift toward the left in science media, which resulted in dismissing the concerns of the right about moral issues (hESC) as anti-science while the left's concerns about moral issues (animal research) are framed as moral issues and not anti-science positions.  As I have noted before, Republicans, en masse, never accepted global warming but do accept climate change - and now the entire left talks about climate change and has abandoned the term global warming.  So Republicans were more scientific in that sense.

    Scientists used to be regarded as conservative, because it was the left always making life unpleasant and being hysterical.

    I don't think the issue is simply conservativism - most Republicans are not conservatives just like most Democrats are not liberals - but instead an intentional effort by science media, overwhelmingly progressive, to engage in cheerleading and advocacy about science rather than doing the same kind of journalism news bureaus do in politics.

    You make a good point about the conservative shift among Democrats.   It used to be that a Scoop Jackson Democrat (fiscally liberal, socially conservative, strong on defense) had a home in the Democratic party and now the only one, Joe Liebermann, couldn't even win his own Democratic primary and had to get elected as an Independent because he didn't lock step with the cookie-cutter positions they wanted him to have.   And he was Gore's running mate in 2000 so that is a dramatic shift in power toward progressives to run him out of the party.
    Hank, I ended up finding this piece (along with others) after having a discussion with friends about the denial of science by politicians.

    Let me be clear I self identify as progressive, independent, and pro-science (that is to say I value scientific inquiry and method as well as hold strong values toward knowledge and scholarship in general). I am not a scientist, but a graduate student in international management and I do have several friends and acquaintances who are either scientists by trade or trained in upper level science by degree (regardless of what they actually do for a living). All of those individuals that I know from a scientific background (except perhaps one) are, to my knowledge self identified as liberal/progressive, and/or Democrat or Independent.

    I agree with the comments above that your assertion of discrimination toward Republicans in scientific fields is unsupported. For the sake of showing good-faith effort though, as I respect your willingness to engage with your readers, I did search for discrimination against republicans in science on your site and in Google. Neither seemed to produce any results showing evidence, nor even on the topic articles as they usually produced science discrimination articles about women or racial minorities:

    Your own site, responding to the lack of results even asked if I meant discrimination of REPUBLIC do to the lack of results. The only other article on the topic was another one by you -again not showing any "evidence" of discrimination- but simply talking about the tendency of scientists to not be Republicans.

    Yes, we can all agree that the data is very strong that scientists tend to have liberal views and a far more likely to be Democrats rather than Republicans. YES, yes, yes, let that be our agreed upon axiom.

    Now you and likely some other conservatives seem to conclude, yes conclude - not prove- that said result is the effect of discrimination in science fields. Evidence to support such a conclusion seems non-existent.

    Note, you could also conclude that it is proof that republicans are anti-science (if Republicans do tend to be anti-science it would make sense that they wouldn't pursue it as a career field). Just like how liberals are vastly under-represented in defense contracting (an area I have intimate familiarity with). The majority of my defense contracting friends (and veteran friends) are conservative/republican but it would be absurd to ignore the reality that liberals seldom have interest in such fields - which is the easiest and most obvious explanation for their lack of participation in it.

    Do you acknowledge and accept the relevancy of the comparison (two technically inclined professional fields with seemingly polar opposite political demographics)?

    If so, do you accept that a reasonable and obvious conclusion is that liberals are simply less inclined to seek careers in the defense field?

    So now I've presented you with another potential conclusion, won which I think is more reasonable, but I'll go further and elaborate on why the discrimination conclusion is not reasonable.

    Here is your professed reasoning by claiming discrimination: " Now, you can certainly contend there is no discrimination anywhere in academia; not against handicapped people, black people, women or Republicans. It could certainly all be choice that account for under-representation. Yet a whole lot of those groups contend otherwise and I have yet to see a progressive argue against that so if suddenly Republican representation is the only time it is a choice, it says nothing except how you vote. "

    Note, you still show no proof of discrimination, you simply compare other arguments of discrimination with yours and say they are the same thing. Well, using just the list you created it becomes obvious that "One of these things is not like the others". Being handicapped, black, or a woman, is a physical trait that people live with and which is generally a birth trait (though many people do become handicapped, it is still an aspect of existence, what people are but do not choose to be).

    Being a republican is a philosophy, ideology, party affiliation, or worldview. Much like being an animal lover, a capitalist, or a futurist. The only "viewpoint" that we give special recognition too as an area for discrimination is religion/spirituality and that is do to the innateness it is perceived with as well as our particular social history. Regardless of whether anyone agrees or disagrees with said unique consideration for religion in this regard, I assume I do not have to explain it's existence or history for any on this board.

    You cannot seriously view being a Republican, a political party affiliation, a choice, a viewpoint, and an identifier that is neither visible nor innately defined for anyone to the reality of being black by birth, in a nation with a very clear history of oppression, and dis-empowerment in social condition? Or being a woman, or handicapped can you? This seems like a serious logical leap as well as inability to assess like and unlike characteristics/traits.

    Doing so would also as I pointed out before, force you to allege discrimination in the defense industry (instead of accepting what I think makes sense), as well as go much further. For instance I'm willing to bet that a disproportionately large number of green party members work in environmental fields, same for libertarians in business fields, or Constitution Party members in religious fields. For that matter I'm sure stats would support that more Fortune 500 CEOs tend to be Republicans and likely more Non-profit leaders tend to be Democrats.

    The point is that aside from government political appointments in rare cases, we do not expect nor want a litmus test in choosing career fields based on political affiliation. We accept that people will move toward what they are draw toward based on their own interests and worldviews. Just like I don't expect to see very many self-identified isolationists working in international management.

    While it's sensible that being a Republican (thus holding particular world views) means it is reasonable that someone might be more likely to have a business interest or desire work in our current national defense industry, there is nothing about being black that correlates. Being black does not innately mean that a person is less or more likely to gravitate toward one occupation or another by choice, being being black is not an ideology. Nor is being a woman or being handicapped.

    That is the difference of comparison. How can you possibly ignore such things?

    No it still seems that Republicans (not all but as a group) tend to be less interested in pursuing science or listening to what science produces.

    You're right. There is no proof of discrimination if all participation levels are held to be simply choice.  As evidence for your conclusion, you did a quick Google search and found no one labeling themselves as bigots.  It's like going to 1950s Alabama and asking white people in power if they are prejudiced against blacks and when none of them admit to it, you dismiss it as unsubstantiated. It is completely reasonable if you find that method valid.

    So, sure, if lack of participation in any field by blacks, latinos, handicapped people or Republicans is simply dismissed as 'they don't want to be in science', no one can really argue with you. But Republicans get a special argument leveled at them by kooky progressives - they are too stupid. Obviously if you swap out one minority for another in that case you can see how vitriolic and hate-filled that bigotry is.  Unless it's not bigotry to you, which means you are letting your political persuasion color your objectivity.
    Hi Hank - Sorry to come in so late, but it was interesting to read the exchange between you and an anonymous grad student. My two cents to add is that I have only once had a political discussion in a departmental setting. That was when I was a grad student at Ohio State in 1965, and in conversations with my research advisor he revealed that he was a Republican. We were discussing the Viet Nam war and Richard Nixon, and even though I disagreed with him, I had the greatest respect for him as an individual, and also as a highly intelligent scientist. In 40 years of my later academic career at UC Berkeley, UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz, I never had another political discussion with a colleague at work, nor have I ever heard anyone question the politics of a candidate for a faculty position. It's simply irrelevant to what we do in science departments. My guess is that such discussions might occur in the humanities departments, but I have no direct experience to relate. Rather than lumping all university faculty, as you did in your blog, it would be interesting to see data on the Republican/Democrat ratio among faculty in science and humanities departments, and also in West Coast blue states and midwestern red states. I tend to agree with anonymous that the liberal trend has little to do with active discrimination, but more reflects personal choice by individual faculty members.

    Hi Dave.

    To believe that it's self-selection which chooses Republicans not to be in academia, science or otherwise, is fine by me.  Black people and women and the handicapped disagree that self-selection bias against well-paying jobs with guaranteed security actually exists, though. Academia is not the low-paying job it was back when political representation was about even so self-selection here asks us to believe that as income for professors went up, fewer right-wing people chose to do it.

    The studies you ask about have been done. FACULTY PARTISAN AFFILIATIONS IN ALL
    is one example.  While the skew is heavier in the social sciences - sociology was 44:1 Democrat to Republican - biology was 10:1 and even physics was 5:1 and I would have thought physics was almost even.   But that speaks to basic psychology.   If a person in the deep south had a black friend in 1960, he may have assumed there was no racism.  I would have thought physics was almost even because I actually know physicists who are more right than left.  I don't know any biologists under the age of 60 that are (to my knowledge) right wing but when I have informally polled biologists, they all say their field is politically balanced.