Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Why So Few Republican Scientists?

Slate has a good piece by Daniel Sarewitz lamenting the fact that science in America is dominated by members of a single political party. Sarewitz argues that this state of affairs is good neither for science nor for the future of our democracy. Here are a few excerpts:
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.

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?
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.

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.

Cultural Shift

Andrew Klavan at NRO makes the case that there is a fresh conservative breeze blowing through the leftist stronghold that is American culture. He stresses in his concluding paragraph why culture matters:
The fight for the culture may not always seem urgent, but it truly is. Arguments are won and lost in hearts and minds long before they’re ever decided at the polls. The arts not only reflect the conscience of the hour, they also shape the conscience of the age.
An earlier paragraph elaborates:
We fret because we fear that ignorant people — especially the young — will take leftist art as truth, essentially giving the Left the power to rewrite history and reality in the American mind. Perhaps the next generation will come to believe that Oliver Stone’s absurd but well-made JFK tells the true story of the president’s assassination or that American operatives and soldiers routinely committed the sorts of atrocities depicted in Rendition or Redacted. As former ambassador Joseph Wilson boasted about the contrafactual heroic impression given of him and his wife, Valerie Plame, in the new film Fair Game: “For people who have short memories or don’t read, this is the only way they will remember the period.”
He goes on to cite examples of how the fare to which Americans are exposed on the screens of their theaters and televisions is shifting rightward along with the mood of the country. Here's part of his brief:
For the last few years, movies promoting the Western ideals of self-reliance, morality, and faith have scored at the box office — see The Incredibles (“If everyone is special, that means no one is”), The Blind Side (“Who would have thought we’d have a black son before we knew a Democrat?”), and Toy Story 3 (a takedown of the nanny state). They have also been more innovative and creative — 300, Gran Torino, No Country for Old Men — than the products of the desiccated and outmoded Left.

Our best novelist (Tom Wolfe) and two greatest English-speaking playwrights (Tom Stoppard and David Mamet) are now all open about their political conservatism. And new top-notch mainstream TV shows (Justified, Blue Bloods) have arrived to offset the lefty Law and Order and Jon Stewart.
I don't know if Klavan is just indulging in wishful thinking or has spotted a genuine trend, but his article may interest those who need a reason to hope that maybe things are indeed getting better.

Our culture reflects our view of both God and man, and the view that is too often promoted in much of our music and films is that there is no God, and man is just an animal with brutish appetites whose satisfaction is the path to happiness and fulfullment.

It's a view of man that glorifies the base, the crude and the vulgar while denying that there's anything particularly noble or sublime about being human. This, of course, is precisely what one would expect from a culture that no longer believes that man is created in the image of God and made a little lower than the angels.

I hope Klavan is right about the wind shift, but I need to see a more consistent turn of the weathervane before I begin to celebrate.