The latest tool in that cultural arsenal is a shocking misunderstanding of biology - all biology, from genes to hormones to epigenetics. It happened again in Nature this week. Now, Nature has endorsed President Obama, this is no shock because they also endorsed him in 2008, along with the rest of science media and most academic scientists who also duplicated that this year. 'Right wing' people are only 16% of even real science academia - and they are a lot less in the social sciences and science media, so even though President Obama has committed the exact same sins against science that President Bush did and Republicans have historically outfunded Democrats in science, academics and science media are going to like him anyway, and then rationalize why. That's why we have scientization of politics as a term.
But why endorse political scientists and social psychologists claiming to be experts in biology? Aren't you, Nature, just adding to the public's misunderstanding of science when you do that? It isn't necessarily the fault of the writer. Anyone under the age of 30 who got a journalism degree from a California university has a political skew, and freelancers want to be published so they know they have to write what editors want to read - but editors at Nature should know better than to embrace the latest popular tripe. Instead, we get the modern journalistic failsafe - sentences like "increasing number of studies suggest" which, let's be honest, can mean anything to anyone.
Only after telling us that we are hard-wired with responses to gay marriage and immigration - no, seriously - does write Lizzie Buchen note "Many of the studies linking biology to politics remain controversial and unreplicated". In other words, they are not science, so why devote 2.000 words to them in a science journal?
What we don't get for the next 2,000 words is evidence. Instead, we get a psychologist telling us we are naive if we think people vote on politics because they want to keep their money or help someone else. Then we get a political scientist whose self-described motivation is "I'd like to see people have a little less chutzpah about their political beliefs". The only thing approaching evidence is an ancient study of twins that excited Journal of Theoretical Politics readers but no scientists, with a tenuous claim that identical twins shared the political beliefs of their parents slightly more than fraternal ones.
That original twins study went nowhere in science, the geneticist behind it says, but in the 2000s more political scientists discovered it and, no surprise, 'replicated' it by doing similar twin surveys in the US. In an entire Nature article on a supposed biological link to political beliefs, a biology claim gets mentioned one time, and it is a paper on surveys of twins from 1986. The rest is all political scientists and in a few instances they are not even discussing published surveys, they are instead unpublished claims about surveys by a political scientist that get stated as evidence by a journalist.
Only political scientist Evan Charney of Duke University is noted as balking at the idea that conservatives are biologicaly more resistant to change and therefore more resistant to gay marriage and illegal immigration. Chaney also notes some self-awareness no one else in the article has; that he and most people in his field are liberals or even hard-left progressives and that bias could impact their search for science-ed up links between politics and biology.
The scientization of politics is big in 2012 because it has worked so well for the last few years. The closing of the Yucca mountain project, which was intended to store hazardous nuclear waste, was among the more shocking displays of blatant scientization of politics I have ever witnessed. Despite it being the best solution for nuclear waste, determined by exhaustive science studies over the last 25 years, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada did not want it, so he got President Obama to cancel it in 2009, and then they looked for science reasons to do so.
Dawn Stover wrote on the issue in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:
Two decades later, Obama leaned on science for the political result he wanted. When the music stopped, taxpayers and nuclear power plant operators found themselves right back where they started: with no waste-disposal solution in sight.But who called it out, besides Science 2.0 and the writer cited above? No one. Instead, in 2009 press secretary Robert Gibbs, said "I think the President has come down on whether or not [Yucca Mountain] makes sense based on the science" - but he did exactly the opposite of what the science actually said and now we are left with lots of different facilities for storing nuclear waste instead of one safe, state-of-the-art one in a remote location.
Despite the consensus of science and the overwhelming consensus of nuclear scientists, the left wing and its advocacy groups like Greenpeace and Union of Concerned Scientists are overwhelmingly against nuclear power. Is anyone at Nature examining the biological reason why progressives are so fearful and conservative when it comes to energy and food and medical research? Did that anti-science event factor into Nature's determination that the Republican candidate is worse than the Democrat? No, instead their key reason for endorsing a Democrat is a 2009 stimulus plan and that Obama made a minor modification to the US policy on human embryonic stem cell research - yet they frame it as that he "reversed an executive order" and note that they don't know how Romney feels about hESC research, despite the fact that he has supported science every time he spoke on science issues. Invoking hESC research 10 years after it was relevant is really reaching.
What else has resulted from the increased scientization of politics over the last few years? Science is now being completely ignored because academic scientists and science media won't call out anti-science positions by Democrats - both candidates know academia is voting one way and science has nothing to do with it, despite what editors in Nature's UK offices claim, so it is safe to just ignore science issues. Science is a $140 billion constituency and if scientists actually voted on science issues the way the elderly do, or religious people, or teachers, they would be a powerful force.
By academia being blatantly partisan, we have a situation where neither candidate pays much attention to science. Global warming? Barely a mention this election, despite it getting token representation in the Democratic party platform - by contrast, God and the capitol of Israel got lots of attention even though they were not in the DNC platform. And Democrats are far more anti-science on pressing short term issues, like food biology and medical research. President Obama could only hurt himself wading into those waters when 53 out of 55 members of Congress who lobbied the FDA to put national warning labels on GM food are Democrats. Romney also knows that people who are anti-vaccine and anti-GMO are not voting for a Republican.
Wouldn't it be great if, instead of politics being a subjective world view, the scientization of politics had a science basis? Actual biology? Unfortunately, reductionism is not so easy, despite the desires of partisan academic political and social scientists with science envy.