Spend any time in American science media and you may find some of them are pretty far out of the political mainstream; so far out, they may not even be friends with anyone who has not always voted the same way as them.

So it's unsurprising that much of science media once perpetuated the claim that 'science votes Democrat.'  Humans are fallible and confirmation bias is sneaky. As was apocryphally attributed to New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael after the 1972 Presidential election and a Richard M. Nixon landslide victory, "I don't know how Nixon won. No one I know voted for him." (1)

Science media is not immune to social projection, most people assume the silent majority is just like them. In 2012, I wrote Science Left Behind with Dr. Alex Berezow because the claims that Republicans were somehow more anti-science had become the default in science media and that was impacting public acceptance of science; the left was getting a free pass on all kinds of anti-science nonsense because they were voting against Republicans and they were doing a lot of harm. (2)

Dr. Neil Tyson with our mascot, Bloggy, at the World Science Festival in 2009. Credit: Hank Campbell or Kristina Gorgevich, I can't remember. Probably her.

Science 2.0 fave Dr. Neil Tyson, American astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, recently got into hot water with the anti-science left by off-handedly talking about GMOs. They dismissed him as 'just' an astrophysicist. This is a common technique in undermining science - he is just an astronomer, biologists are just tinkerers, world-class scientists in genetic modification are just corporate shills, etc. Meanwhile, Yogic flying instructors and nice ladies who issue platitudes like 'do not eat it if you can't pronounce it' headline nutrition conferences.

And for a long time science bloggers enabled that partisan framing. When it became obvious it was the left who were overwhelmingly anti-vaccine, anti-agriculture, and anti-energy social authoritarians trying to limit choice using government, there were various rationalizations that they were not anti-science but "anti-corporation".

Those days are long gone, the numbers don't lie and moderate science media agrees - when it comes to vaccine denial, the left representation is far greater than global warming denial on the right. Tyson is not buying the claim that they are 'anti-corporation', he is not coddling anti-science people, he is just stating what can't be denied any more.

In an interview on the website Patheos, Tyson told Dan Arel
“It’s wrong to simply attack the right for science denial. Liberals cannot claim to fully embrace science, there is plenty of science denial from the left.” (3)
Today, this seems obvious. In 2012, when I wrote Science Left Behind, it was vehemently denied - by people on the left, including bloggers who had been too young to remember that the 1990s were clearly a decade when Democrats were more anti-science. Clinton and Democrats killed the Superconducting Super Collider and nuclear research and they cut funding for both the NIH and NASA. 

In point of fact, science denial is far more prevalent on the left and they are more dangerous because they 'practice what they preach'. Climate change denying Republicans conserve energy and recycle just as much as Sierra Club donors do so resistance to climate policy is tedious but not increasing the problem; the anti-vaccine, anti-food and anti-energy movements are all life-threatening problems happening right now, and the people engaging in it are overwhelmingly left.

And their arguments are similar. Tyson told Arel that he is now an “Enemy of the liberals, they keep claiming I must have been paid off by Monsanto.”

Does that follow-the-money conspiracy theory sound familiar? It should, anti-science Republicans say the same thing about climate science. 

It just proves the point that when you read anyone claiming science denial is happening on just one side, they are selling you something.


(1) It's not an accurate quote anyway, she was more nuanced than that, but she likely would have said it as a self-deprecating joke, no different than if I were at a conference on women and science and said, "There can't be a problem with representation in science, I can't find any middle-aged white men with tenure who talk about it." Only militant bloggers would claim that is me being Part Of The Problem.

(2) Why don't I mention hard-right science bloggers? Because there are none. Psychologists and sociologists have a lot of labels for why people will block out The Other, consciously or not, and that lack of representation snowballs. It's also why there are fewer young Republicans in graduate schools.  When Science 2.0 began development in 2006, most science bloggers wrote about religion and politics. Today, most write about science, so they are still left, but a more pleasant kind of left than the angry progressives of science blogging's earlier days.

(3) Tyson has defended Republicans in the past, as he is wont to do when presented with simplistic partisan framing. It's great to say one side is pro-science but he is old enough to remember when Democrats butchered funding for science and Republicans restored it. 

Democrats in science don't say it but they can't be happy that during the "sequester" government shutdown President Obama shut down all of the NSF except the security guards but kept over 200 employees in just his White House staff as "essential". Inflation-adjusted spending for the NIH is also down from the Bush years.