It is no secret that the ranks of scientists and engineers in the United States include dismal numbers of Hispanics and African-Americans, but few have remarked about another significantly underrepresented group: Republicans.I wonder if one reason that most scientists are Democrats isn't the same as the reason that most academics in general are Democrats. Scientists are often dependent upon government largesse for grants and employment. Thus scientists are going to favor a government that's generous with grant money, i.e. the sort of government promoted by the Democrat party.
No, this is not the punch line of a joke. A Pew Research Center Poll from July 2009 showed that only around 6 percent of U.S. scientists are Republicans; 55 percent are Democrats, 32 percent are independent, and the rest "don't know" their affiliation.
Yet, partisan politics aside, why should it matter that there are so few Republican scientists? After all, it's the scientific facts that matter, and facts aren't blue or red.
Well, that's not quite right. Consider the case of climate change, of which beliefs are astonishingly polarized according to party affiliation and ideology. A March 2010 Gallup poll showed that 66 percent of Democrats (and 74 percent of liberals) say the effects of global warming are already occurring, as opposed to 31 percent of Republicans. Does that mean that Democrats are more than twice as likely to accept and understand the scientific truth of the matter? And that Republicans are dominated by scientifically illiterate yahoos and corporate shills willing to sacrifice the planet for short-term economic and political gain?
Or could it be that disagreements over climate change are essentially political—and that science is just carried along for the ride? For 20 years, evidence about global warming has been directly and explicitly linked to a set of policy responses demanding international governance regimes, large-scale social engineering, and the redistribution of These are the sort of things that most Democrats welcome, and most Republicans hate. No wonder the Republicans are suspicious of the science.
Think about it: The results of climate science, delivered by scientists who are overwhelmingly Democratic, are used over a period of decades to advance a political agenda that happens to align precisely with the ideological preferences of Democrats. Coincidence—or causation?
Perhaps another reason is that science serves as a kind of substitute religion for at least some of its practitioners. Most Republicans already have a religion and don't feel drawn to the sciences to find one. Those who don't have a religion, however, which is the condition of many on the political left, often seek to find meaning and purpose in their life by making discoveries that will advance our knowledge and understanding of the world and ourselves. Thus they are drawn to the practice of science.
Or it may be that scientists gravitate toward the Democrat party because for three generations now, the media has portrayed Republicans as oafish, benighted and greedy. People who are intelligent and caring don't wish to be associated with a party in which, to their way of thinking, so many ignorant souls find refuge.
Or it may be that liberals simply tend to value scientific and other intellectual pursuits more than conservatives do.
Or it may be that the reason is either none of the above or a combination of all of the above. Whatever it is I think we can agree with Sarewitz that it's not healthy for either science or the country to have such a lop-sided distribution of ideological perspectives among those to whom we often turn for expert opinions on important matters of public policy.