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.
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