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    The Call To Make Science Less Partisan Gets New Members
    By Hank Campbell | January 9th 2013 03:30 AM | 8 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

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    Since 2007, on too many occasions to count, I have noted that by being overwhelmingly partisan scientists in academia are putting themselves at risk.

    Not financially. If funding mattered, all scientists would vote Republican - when it comes to funding, Republicans have spent more than Democrats on science even in the period when science, and all academia, lurched far to the left. Republicans do not cut funding because scientists vote Democrat.

    I meant they put themselves at risk when it comes to the legitimacy of their fields in the eyes of the public. 40 years ago, conservatives had the highest confidence in science. Now, only those on the far left have confidence while moderates and the right believe science is creating subjective truths rather than objective ones.

    In the 2012 election, science was not a talking point for either U.S. presidential candidate - the media sort of made science an issue by claiming global warming caused the Sandy storm that hit the east coast, but even the IPCC wishes the media would stop claiming weather events are global warming for political expediency. Regardless of science accuracy, a few days before a November election that was settled in July, Obama voters in science academia (84% or so) now had a reason to not vote for Romney - he was anti-science because a hurricane happened.  

    And yet former Democratic Vice President Al Gore, Nobel laureate, Academy Award winner and world leader in global warming awareness, didn't go to the Democratic Convention or campaign for President Obama because Obama did not care about the science either.   And Gore was right for not attending. Despite it being in the Democratic platform, global warming got mentioned one time in the 80 speeches I watched during the convention. And it was not mentioned at all in the Vice-President or Presidential debates.

    Why didn't the president talk about science more?  Because it didn't matter, the vote among scientists who talk about science publicly has been settled since 1992.  When a constituency declares in advance that (a) they are not voting based on their own issues and (b) they are only voting one way, the side with their votes takes them for granted - all science received was 'get out the vote' advertising and phone calls the week before the election. Obama's team blatantly disregarded the 2012 ScienceDebate questions while Romney's at least wrote out thoughtful answers. Who did ScienceDebate and science media declare the best choice anyway?  Obama, of course. Who to vote for was never an issue in academic science. The responses were never going to make a difference, they were just another form of political theater.

    So one side took them for granted and the other did not bother to try and appeal to them, Republicans instead went after voters 'in play'. Science, despite being a $140 million constituency, has no elective power, the way teachers and cops have. Because of that one-sidedness, scientists are instead forced to react to policy decisions regarding science instead of shaping them. That's bad for all of us.

    In Science Left Behind, I again noted that the rampant partisan nature of science academia was one of the most pressing problems we face this decade. Others are starting to take notice. 

    Daniel Sarewitz, co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University, wrote in Nature that there is a "worrying slide towards politicization" - well, that happened long ago.  Nature published his piece, kudos to them for that, but when was the last time Nature endorsed a Republican for US president?  No Republican has been worthy of Nature in the last three decades - they endorsed John Kerry.  JOHN KERRY!  Sarewitz says, "The US scientific community must decide if it wants to be a Democratic interest group or if it wants to reassert its value as an independent national asset."

    And that's a key point. The overwhelming majority of scientists are independent national assets. While the loud, militant progressives get the ire and attention, most scientists are instead not those annoying, social authoritarian busybodies, they are instead classical liberals.  They put up with progressives the way we all do. Progressives have no value in science but science needs classical liberals. Creativity requires freedom.

    But science needs conservatives too.

    Peer review is conservative.  If peer review were progressive, papers would get printed based on the demographic makeup of the authors and journals would be mandated to have representation from developing nations and early-stage scientists and publications would issue statements like 'women and minorities are strongly encouraged to submit their studies', which is a wink-wink way of saying they get a free pass in the interests of social justice.

    As liberal as academia is, when it comes to review, the conservative meritocracy mentality kicks in. Show your data and they are going to kick you around for 6 months about it until they are convinced. It is intellectual capitalism in its purest form.  And it works.

    Academia spends a great deal of time agonizing about the female and minority segments of science - some researchers take an ethical stand and won't go to a conference if it lacks female representation - yet when it comes to political diversity, the lack of it is dismissed as 'choice' and they dupe themselves into believing that in the last generation Republicans have suddenly chosen not to get faculty or tenure jobs that pay six-figure incomes - while women are supposedly hindered because the highest levels of academia do not have enough women.  That is called having blinders on.

    But is it a fair rationale? Actually, I think it is, for most scientists in academia. As I said above, most scientists are classic liberals, they are not blocking anyone out because of a differing political mentality. They don't even know the political mentality of people around them because they are busy doing science. So if someone tells them there are few Republicans due to choice, they believe it, just like they believe women are hindered career-wise if they don't have equal numbers in classes. 

    But they are also not in charge, in many cases. Other areas in science recognize that being tolerant is not enough. Entire committees are formed and have a specific mandate to be as diverse and representative as possible, so if transparency is important, why not include politics? 45% of America is clearly Republican but only 27% admit to it. Ditto with Democrats, though 31% admit to it. 40% instead claim to be 'independent', which is the same number of academics claiming to be independents. So simply asking people what party they are wouldn't do any good.

    In all of the transparency we demand of people who get public financing, why is 'Who did you vote for in the last election?' a privacy issue? Would such transparency not defuse the claim that science is politically one-sided? 

    As Sarewitz notes, some science committees covertly get more political representation by including the private sector. Despite claims from zealots inside academia that academia has few Republicans because Republicans are too stupid to do science, the reality is that the bulk of America's science is still produced by the private sector and private sector science is as diverse as the American public.

    Republicans are not out of touch with America, academia is. But academia is a high-profile target in the culture wars. If we want to defuse the belief that science has been hijacked by social engineering, we need to stop letting social engineering hijack the perception of science.

    That's no easy task, the progressives who hijack the discourse and frame Republicans as anti-science are entrenched - they are the elites they are bragging about when they say elites are smarter than everyone else, and so Republicans are now stuck with the 'shackled man effect' the same way women were still far behind in representation even though current opportunities became suddenly 'fair' for both genders: Men were already way ahead in the race due to past discrimination, just like Democrats are way ahead in academic leadership positions now.

    And a lot of them like it that way, for reasons that have nothing to do with science.

    Climate scientist Roger Pielke, Jr. notes in his comments about the Sarewitz piece:
    For partisans, none of this analysis makes sense because their goal is to simply vanquish their political opponents. That science has become aligned with the Democratic party is, from where they sit, not a problem but a positive. Thus more partisanship is needed, not less.
    The good news is that most scientists are interested in fairness, they will stop people when they discover political manipulation is happening. They just don't know it is happening - yet. 

    Nature publishing something that it is obvious the editorial board there do not personally agree with is a sign that some in science media are at least liberal enough to consider an argument that progressives are hurting science - and that is a good sign for the future.

    Comments

    "In all of the transparency we demand of people who get public financing, why is 'Who did you vote for in the last election?' a privacy issue? Would such transparency not defuse the claim that science is politically one-sided?"

    That tramples on individual rights. A Republican should have the freedom not to be on a committee - or part of a profession - if he doesn't want to be, and clearly they don't, because so few Republicans become scientists. You're dangerously close to suggesting the kind of quota system that you hate... well claim to... in all other contexts.

    Hank
    if he doesn't want to be, and clearly they don't, because so few Republicans become scientists.
    Plenty of scientists are Republicans, you mean science academia, which is only 50% of American basic research and far less R%D science. I agree with the gist of your points in this and the comment below but this part sticks out; how do you know this to be true?  I have a hard time subscribing motivation to Republicans based on recent participation data just like I have a hard time believing women haven't wanted to be in the Augusta Country Club because there were none before. 

    40 years ago there was political parity in science academia but 25 years ago, as being a university professor stopped being a 'starving artist' profession, right wing people abandoned it once there was higher income?  That certainly defies the perception of Republicans.  Why does this same 'choice' argument not apply to women?  It is hard to believe that there can be bias against women if there are too many men but not bias against right wing people if the jobs at the top are held by the left.

    On a quota system, right, it is anathema to me and you recognize that making an argument for one thing is often to demonstrate a larger point. It's just odd that a 'conflict of interest' statement does not apply to the giant elephant everyone in government-funded science deals with; politics.


    And the argument that Republicans give more money to science, but scientists vote Democrat, shows that scientists are rational enough to realize that the danger to their science is not lack of money but lack of political acceptance of their work, e.g. evolution, climate change, stem cells... you can't bribe them.

    Seems like the bigger risk to science, e.g. vaccines, drug research, using animal models, GMO research... is the left. Evolution deniers don't have much of an affect on scientific progress, the left isn't doing anything substantial about climate change (if the worst case scenario is correct, their solution would delay the end by a couple years at best), and embryonic stem cell research isn't really going anywhere compared to all the other right wing endorsed forms of stem cell research. The reality is that the anti-science left is doing real harm to scientific progress while the anti-science right gets all the attention.

    Hank
    This was a point I made in Science Left Behind.  So much is made about a few crackpot school districts trying to teach religion in science classes and that meant the right is against science. And 49% of the right is against evolution but so is 40% of the left. I don't see how the left is all that superior.  Climate change, sure, the right denies it more but the left overwhelmingly accepts almost anything if you blame humans - you can say 'smurfs are killing us' and 88% will agree. That is not pro-science. The people against the science consensus on food, energy and medicine are overwhelmingly left wing but science media never addresses it.  They are not anti-science on the left, they are anti-corporation, etc.  

    There is a lot of hypocrisy in it. But there are so few right wing people in science academia or science media it is easy to demonize them - you never have to worry about vilifying people you don't see in the hallway.
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    There is a lot of hypocrisy in it. But there are so few right wing people in science academia or science media it is easy to demonize them - you never have to worry about vilifying people you don't see in the hallway.
    Really?
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    I have a Facebook friend who as very progressive who posted this message. I should also point out that she has an advanced degree (not science, obviously). I'd say she is a bigger risk to science than someone who denies evolution.

    "I would like to see a correlation between the people who get sick now (and especially those who die) and the people who took the deadly H1N1 flu shot a couple of years ago. That vaccine was suppose to begin killing people in about three years after they got it (or their unborn children if they were female). Had Mercury in it among other things designed to interfere with your natural immune function over time. "They" only need about 30% of us to make all the money that "they" want; so, about 70% of us are just parasites on the money pot. So, why not just have a few more of us succumb to "natural causes"? One very disabled young man in my town, who had survived against all odds into his late teens, died of respiratory issues two weeks after taking the nasal H1N1 vaccine. [Just a coincidence, of course]."

    Hank
    That was the point I made in the book. Yes, denying evolution is annoying but no one dies from it - and America has led the world in Nobel prizes despite being a lot more religious in the past than today. It's an entirely manufactured controversy.  Global warming is a problem but we have some time to fix that - but we can't fix it when literally every kind of energy science is denied by activists.  And they will kill people soon if they ever get control of food and medicine.