The Democratic Party Does Not Own Science
A journal commentator comes to the rescue of conservatives, who get an undeserved bad rap about science.
Because many science reporters take a default leftist position, it becomes a cultural myth that the Democratic party is science-friendly and the Republican party is anti-science. Take any issue that overlaps science with politics—global warming, sex and family, immigration—and you will most often find reporters arguing against positions of Republicans. This must stop, Daniel Sarewitz writes in Nature. “Science should keep out of partisan politics” his headline reads.
First, some recent examples of leftist bias in the science news:
- Global warming: Republicans tend to be skeptical of the warmist prophecies of doom, largely because of dislike of UN “global governance,” doubts about climate models, and the deleterious effects of austere remediation efforts on free enterprise. Science Daily merely assumes the warmist position (that humans are responsible), asking, “What will it take to convince climate skeptics that the phenomenon is real?”
- Immigration: Republicans are all for legal immigration, but disparage the flood of illegal immigrants pouring through our borders, not out of xenophobia but the economic impact on Americans, the value of the rule of law, and concerns about national security. Science Daily announces (switching the term “illegal” to the less-judgmental “undocumented”), “Medical schools have ethical obligation to accept applications from undocumented immigrants, experts say.”
- Gay blood: Many conservatives would be appalled at the prospect of putting heterosexual Americans at risk of HIV through the blood supply, but Medical Xpress bows to political correctness in its headline, “US mulls lifting ban on gay blood donations”—reported as if that is a good, scientific thing to do to help reduce homophobia.
- PC Good: Political correctness, a frequent target of conservative liberty advocates, must be nice if it “fosters creativity,” PhysOrg says. “While PC behavior is generally thought to threaten the free expression of ideas,” some academics “found that positioning such PC norms as the office standard provides a layer of safety in the workplace that fosters creativity.”
- Abortion OK: For half a century, conservatives have been trying to protect the unborn, but Medical Xpress rationalizes it on the grounds of a woman’s well being, saying “major complications after abortion are extremely rare,” as if that justifies taking the life of an individual with its own DNA and two parents.
- Energy: You can count on liberals to oppose anything that brings energy independence and economic prosperity to America, a highly-sought goal by conservatives. Nature titles its hit piece, “the fracking fallacy.”
- Welfare: As if hard-working Americans are not creative, Science Daily puts forward the suggestion that “Entitlement Boosts Creativity,” praising a “study” at Vanderbilt that found that students writing why they deserved “various positive outcomes” were more “creative” by some measure. Republicans value responsibility and generally deplore entitlements except for the truly needy. Even if it makes some welfare recipients creative, does that justify the billions of dollars the government doles out?
This is just a sampling. Perhaps it’s the fact that liberals tend to be less religious, and more accepting of scientific “consensus” about evolution and other subjects, that leads reporters to bias their stories toward the Democrats. Let’s see what Sarewitz says about it. Nature’s subtitle for the article reads, “The Republican urge to cut funding is not necessarily anti-science, and the research community ought not to pick political sides, says Daniel Sarewitz.”
Daniel’s ire was provoked by watching how American scientists responded to the Republican rout in the last election. When the AAAS chose a prominent Democrat as its new chief, he thought, “in today’s poisonous partisan atmosphere, the AAAS’s choice of Rush Holt, a physicist and political centrist just finishing a 16-year stint in Congress, looks every bit as political as the election itself.” Like an umpire, Sarewitz stepped up for the Republicans. His first line backs up what we stated earlier about the assumption Democrats are science’s reliable champions:
It is standard wisdom among Democrats that Republicans are ‘anti-science’. This view will be reinforced when Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, famously sceptical about climate change, takes over the Committee on Environment and Public Works in January; when House science committee chair Lamar Smith (Texas) renews his assault on social science and the peer-review process; and when research and development spending continues to stagnate under a Republican-controlled Congress.
The AAAS, which bills itself as “the world’s largest general scientific society” has positioned itself to counter these developments by anointing a leader who could take up the fight. From this perspective, the choice of Holt might seem inspired. That is certainly what commentators on the Democratic side are saying. Typical is a blog post by Joe Romm of the think tank Center for American Progress in Washington DC, who looks forward to Holt continuing “his blunt defense of both science and climate action given his new high-profile platform”.
But is it smart for the AAAS to link itself explicitly to the partisan fray? The generally accepted metric of how well national science is doing is the level of government funding, and by that measure Republicans have, on the whole, supported science as much Democrats have in the past 50 years.
As it goes, Sarewitz positions himself neutral about politics across the pond, but he sees some justification for the Republicans trying to limit spending. For one thing, he dismantles the assumption that more spending equals more scientific progress. He doubts that leaders of the AAAS or NSF know how to prioritize their own spending priorities, and sees some justification for Republicans wanting to put some accountability back into what they perceive is a runaway scientific establishment wasting taxpayer money on frivolous studies. His conclusion is like his headline: science should keep out of partisan politics.
The political situation surrounding US science and politics is not clear-cut. The more the AAAS, and so the science community, is seen to line up behind one party, the less claim it will have to special status in informing difficult political and social decisions. Public regard for scientists remains particularly high, and for politicians, particularly low. Blurring the boundaries between these groups is not likely to redound to the benefit of politicians, but to the detriment of scientists.
The essay led to a lively set of comments, many in agreement (even by liberals), but some jumping in with vitriol against conservatives, Fox News, and the religious right.
Daniel Sarewitz is a breath of fresh air in a community dominated by groupthink. Some readers have questioned why we mention political positions sometimes. Here you see for yourself that a prominent journalist for Nature understands the overlap between leftist politics and the “AAAS, and so the science community”. There is no argument—statistics show it—that science professors (and most in academia) are overwhelmingly Democrats, by huge margins. Individual scientists can be Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, and as long as they are honest with their data, deliver good science. It’s the organized groups, like the AAAS and the Democratic Party, and many in the mainstream media, who are most often bosom buddies with Darwinians and big-government, one-world, science=consensus pressure groups, who see the world in either-or, us-vs-them, good-vs-evil categories. This makes sense because they are dependent, to a large extent, on government largesse (meaning, taxpayer dollars). When a Lamar Smith or Tom Coburn comes along and tries to bring a little responsibility to Big Science’s insatiable desire for taxpayer money to spend on on rabbit massages or voodoo dolls (10/29/14), and they get plastered with labels like “anti-science.” This would seem a very unscientific way to respond.
Arguably, it’s the conservatives who wish to see money spent wisely, for national prestige and security, for economic growth and compassion. Radio commentator Dennis Prager has pointed out that leftists are the ones who tend to respond by emotion and see everyone in terms of group identity (one study affirms this; see 11/09/14). The truth is, if the values of responsibility, wisdom, liberty and accountability championed by conservatives became the rule at the AAAS and in the federal government, the economic boom that would ensue would create a surge in science unlike any we have seen in recent memory. The skyrocketing debt bequeathed on America by the leftist administration over the past six years is positioning the country for economic collapse from which Big Science will be unable to rescue itself or others.
Accountability is good for everyone. AAAS: get some.