In modern times, academia in America is far out of the political mainstream, The humanities were for decades but science had held strong until a generation ago; the theories for why that happened are many but most are just rationalizations and outside the scope of this piece. But it has to be mentioned that the people who insist there is not enough representation for women or minorities due to various ills claim it is a 'choice' when it comes to a shocking lack of political diversity (Republicans apparently "don't want" 6-figure jobs that have tenure for life) - apparently the constant ridicule, vitriol and posters demonizing Republicans don't affect a political minority the same way women in bikinis or endorsements of the KKK might affect other groups.
Scientists - well, real scientists, not the ones using ___ Sciences as a proper name - keep it together regardless of their politics. Yes, they may be 'liberal' but liberalism, in the classic sense, is a fundamental tenet of science. A scientist who is conservative in their approach does not get very far. Now, peer review - that is conservative, scientists are always conservative about the work of competitors. And the system works. America leads the world in science output and Nobel prizes and that trickles down to the population; American adults overall lead the world in science literacy.
But science media is its own animal, separate from science. As science journalism began to decline due to waning public interest, the gap was filled in large part by people who wanted to (a) defend science or (b) promote it. Both of those things are not journalism and it quickly showed, though the people violating journalistic standards became popular by doing it. Every group wants to have cheerleaders and they were overwhelmingly represented by the left.
The rise of science blogging corresponded to a breathtakingly efficient 'new technology' political campaign by Democrats, something that baffled Republicans until this year. In the first decade of the 2000s, everything President George W. Bush or Republicans did was magnified and rehashed in the new blogging culture. Democrats, who had been firmly considered "against science" in the 1990s, after ignoring the National Institutes of Health, cutting NASA, cutting the Superconducting Super Collider, and declaring that all nuclear science was too dangerous for scientists to be allowed to do, went from being the anti-science party to convincing bloggers that science itself registers as a Democrat. The legacy of Republican Ronald Reagan, the most pro-science president in history, was wiped out.
New media efforts, including by mobilizing science blogging, culminated in a legendary 2008 presidential campaign by Senator Barack Obama, despite the fact that he said vaccines might be causing autism, refused to discuss evolution, and had no real distinction from his predecessor, George W. Bush, other than that he would "restore science to its rightful place". The cracks became evident immediately; his transition team included an alarming number of UFO believers and a man who thought girls couldn't do math. His science czar was (is) a renowned Doomsday Prophet from the 1970s who latches onto every gloomy fad.
And so not much changed - politicians still politicized science, just different science. President Bush federally funded human embryonic stem cells, for example - the technology had been created in the late 1990s without any federal funding and President Clinton refused to touch it, since it was in violation of the Dickey-Wicker law he had signed. The NIH asked the new president to fund it and President Bush ignored his personal feelings and compromised - he allowed federal funding for the first time, but limited it to existing lines. Yet science blogging and then science media called it a "ban". Union of Concerned Scientists - run by a former (and now current) Democrat staffer - shot to fame and record donations lamenting how anti-science Republicans were. Science blogging piled on.
In 2009, shortly after entering the Oval Office, President Obama honored his campaign promise to support science and...made a slight modification to hESC funding. Since then, he has edited science reports the same way Bush did, he has ignored and blocked science findings he does not like even more than Bush did, funding for the NIH has declined since Obama took office and Obama gutted NASA's Constellation program. There are no tearful press conferences now about how Alzheimer's can't be cured because of Republicans, hESCs have been forgotten.
Yet science media is reacting like Republicans getting control of Congress is terrible. Let's see, the last time Republicans had control of Congress, the NIH budget doubled and NASA funding went up 15%. How was that awful?
Well, it isn't, to neutral people. Writing at Real Clear Science, Dr. Alex Berezow calls out partisans pretending to be about evidence and reason. He cites Dr. Phil Plait, who oddly believes that Republicans will somehow "put a cohort of science-deniers [sic] into positions of authority," which "quite literally affects the future of humanity."
Well, it's his blog and he gets paid the big bucks by Slate to write that stuff, so clearly he is writing what their audience wants to read, but it isn't evidence-based and any skeptical person sees through it. Yes, Republicans deny some science the same way Democrats deny some science, but to neutral people the things Democrats deny - food, energy and medicine - are a lot more dangerous than denying global warming. American CO2 emissions are back at early 1990s levels and coal - the dirtiest energy source - is back at early 1980s levels. Coal miners are union workers, they vote Democrat, and Democrats are soon going to be in the strange position of having to subsidize the coal industry to keep unions happy, even while Democrats claim to care more about global warming. Who took a rifle and shot a hole through global warming legislation as part of a campaign commercial? A Democrat.
Our decrease in CO2 emissions happened in part because of the rise of affordable natural gas (fracking - which Democrats are against) and in part because the federal government continues to mismanage the economy, so a lot fewer people are working and causing emissions - but I am happy to give credit to the man at the top credit for those lower emissions the same way we assign blame for the terrible economy.
Does Dr. Plait really think that if my district switches from Democrat to Republican - or if all of them did - global warming will spiral out of control? It was held by a Democrat for the last two years and it made no difference. When Democrats had control of both Houses of Congress their only big initiative was to replace plastic spoons in the Congressional cafeteria with ones made from corn - which ended up being a complete failure and had to be undone. The House passed a cap-and-trade bill when Democrats had control. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to even allow a vote on the bill. He's a Democrat and close friend of Obama. Why would the pro-science party do that?
The science audience is no more immune from confirmation bias and false balance than anyone else - so if they want to claim this recent Congress was the worst ever, well, that is just politics. A non-partisan look at history shows that is nowhere near true (nor is it true that Obama or Bush is among the worst presidents, despite hyperactive claims) and the reality is that food, energy and medicine are far more pressing short-term problems than climate change.
But you won't see a great deal of truth in the bulk of science media because many of them went into science blogging to promote their politics rather than to promote science.
Scientists have remained immune from that hyperbole since being burned by Obama administration politics - they do not say "The Sequester" was all Republicans, they know it was Obama's idea and they know he kept 436 personal White House staffers on the payroll as "essential" while only listing just over 300 in the entire National Science Foundation as such. 97 percent of NASA was furloughed but twice as many Smithsonian museum employees stayed on the job as the entire NSF - he just made sure to shut off the Panda Cam to show how awful Republicans were. Scientists see the decline in NIH funding since the Bush years and are not buying the claim that the same Republicans who doubled it suddenly hate it.
If anything, they are probably starting to wish it was 2004 all over again.
Read more: Phil Plait's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Alex Berezow, Real Clear Science
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