The Conservative Turn Against Science
A prediction: When all the votes have been counted and the reams of polling data have been crunched, analyzed, and spun, this will be clear: Few scientists will have voted for Republican candidates, particularly for national office. Survey data taken from 1974 through 2010 and analyzed by Gordon Gauchat in the American Sociological Review confirm that most American scientists are not conservatives. A 2009 study by the Pew Research Center found that only 9 percent of scientists self-identified as conservative, while 52 percent called themselves liberals. Only 6 percent of American scientists self-identified as Republicans. This state of affairs is bad for the nation, and bad for science.
It was not always this way. In the 1968 election, Richard Nixon won the votes of 31 percent of physicists, 42 percent of biologists, 52 percent of geologists, and 62 percent of agricultural scientists (compared with 43.4 percent of the popular vote). While these data do not include party affiliation, they suggest that the scientific community of the late 1960s was much more evenly divided between the two major parties than it is now, and, with the exception of physicists, slightly more conservative than the American voting public at large.
Why have scientists fled the Republican Party? The obvious answer is that the Republican Party has spurned science. Consider Mitt Romney’s shifting position on climate change. As governor of Massachusetts in 2004, he laid out a plan for protecting the state’s climate. As presidential candidate, he has said that climate change is real, but has questioned whether humans are causing it. His stance is consistent with the Republican Party platform, which unambiguously calls for expanding the production and use of the fossil fuels that drive climate change. In 2009, Paul Ryan accused climate scientists of “clear efforts to use statistical tricks to distort their findings and intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change,” echoing false accusations leveled against climatologists at the University of East Anglia. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan exemplify the conservative turn against science, but what explains it?