Any time you get a majority of people together, there will always be some sensitivity and compassion and outreach for the minority. In science academia, it is obvious; small blips in representation get concern about fixing the problem of how to get more of demographic X.

It's when you have a super-majority that tolerance and sensitivity disappear. Jokes are common, ridicule is overt, and there is no hesitation because you won't walk by any of those people in the hallway or have an uncomfortable moment in a cafeteria. While we see calls for more representation for women and minorities and claims of stereotype threat, you won't find many people in academia arguing that there needs to be some political diversity - then representation becomes dismissed as a 'choice'. The same men who are implicitly assumed to be picking men for tenure and faculty jobs if there are no women on a hiring committee are absolved of bias if there are no Republicans on that same committee, for example.

But in academia, the trope has even become that Republicans or conservatives are not scientifically literate enough to be in academia anyway. Is it true?  Charges of stupidity and being anti-science often depend on what you regard as important.  If a biologist thinks human embryonic stem cell research is vital, then the fact that Pres. George W. Bush limited federal funding for human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) to existing lines might make them more likely to believe Republicans are against their work. If we ask a biology researcher involved in food science, however, the fact that 52 of the 55 members of Congress that tried to force the FDA to put warning labels on GMOs are Democrats rightly makes them think Democrats are more anti-science.

In the past decade, we have had two overtly radical groups that have achieved some success in getting their candidates elected. In 2006, we had, an action group for Democrats that got a number of its candidates elected, and more recently we have had "Tea Party" Republicans. Both are about equidistant from the center, both include people who are overtly denying science. Yet if you ask academics which of those two groups knows less about science, they invariably pick rabid Republicans.(1)

It isn't true, and really never has been - unless you wanted to believe it to be true. (2) 

Yale Law School psychologist Prof. Dan Kahan instead found that the more right wing subset of Republicans, the aforementioned Tea Party, is more scientifically literate than the left. (3) The idea that conservatives are not dumber about science is in defiance of the asymmetry thesis(4) popularized by political psychologists and their acolytes in culture - they claim that motivated reasoning, emotionally skewed decision-making, is not "symmetric" across politics but is instead concentrated in politically conservative people. 

In another piece, Kahan dismisses the methodology of many of the motivated reasoning asymmetry claims, noting that drawing correlations between political belief and self-reported measures of "open-mindedness" and "dogmatism" isn't science, so I won't go into that here. Instead, his work is a lot more direct; matching what people know with their self-stated political outlooks.

Some things are intuitive; more educated people know more science. And there is slightly more science comprehension among the left. As I wrote in Science Left Behind, while the left is kooky about a lot more things, they are not as strongly kooky about most of them, the way the right is about something like climate change. 

What sticks out is the result for Tea Party Republicans. 19 percent identified as such and their science comprehension was higher - higher than liberals even while general Republicans were lower. 

Credit and link: Cultural Cognition

Surprised? So was Kahan (and me), for an obvious reason: "I don't know a single person who identifies with the Tea Party. All my impressions come from watching cable tv --&I don't watch Fox News very often -- and reading the "paper" (New York Times daily, plus a variety of politics-focused internet sites like Huffington Post&Politico)."

His perception is shaped by the political spin of the media he enjoys. Like him, I am not sure I know a Tea Party person - he is a Yale academic in a social science field so if he works with any Republicans at all it's a surprise. In my case, I am on Team Science rather than Team Red or Blue so people may just not unleash their opinions about Obamacare on me while I am trying to enjoy a cigar.

This was a small sample, as he readily acknowledges. With double the people the distinction could fade away or even flip -  and questions matter too. If there is one question about climate change and the other questions are about energy, vaccines and GMOs, the right will look far more accepting and knowledgeable of science than the left. (5) Religious, Republican Alabama has incredibly high vaccination rates while left-wing Washington state looks like anti-science Luddites.


(1) If everyone is anti-science, does the term "anti-science" have any meaning any more? That became a debate after "Science Left Behind" came out - a few on the left side of science media believe that it is an over-used cliché now. That they only started to think that once a whole book showed that it plagued the left also is a matter left for you to ponder. 

(2) When I was a child, conservatives led all groups in science acceptance while liberals believed science was going to kill us. In the 1980s it flipped around and in the 1990s it flipped back. While in the 2000s were Republicans against science once again, the new decade has proven to be scientization of politics by Democrats in almost every area.  

(3)  There was a modest correlation between science comprehension and religious belief, but nothing conclusive. As I have said in the past, an atheist claiming they accept evolution is not smarter than a religious person saying they deny it. What most people really know about adaptive radiation is negligible - having faith in scientists is not intellectually superior to having faith in priests.

(4) Which doesn't survive its own asymmetry thesis, or Karl Popper's brand of it, which he called falsification. "My proposal is based upon an asymmetry between verifiability and falsifiability; an asymmetry which results from the logical form of universal statements. For these are never derivable from singular statements, but can be contradicted by singular statements." — Karl Popper, "The Logic of Scientific Discovery", p. 19

(5)The only thing that both parties are shockingly uninformed about is evolution acceptance - neither has 50% acceptance and only a few percentage points separate them. The right is more anti-science about evolution than the left, however - just not enough to declare one side truly anti-science on the matter.