Right, Left and Science

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Daniel Sarewitz has a post at Nature in which he decries the trend among many scientists to acting as shrill Democrat partisans:

The US scientific community must decide if it wants to be a Democratic interest group or if it wants to reassert its value as an independent national asset. If scientists want to claim that their recommendations are independent of their political beliefs, they ought to be able to show that those recommendations have the support of scientists with conflicting beliefs. Expert panels advising the government on politically divisive issues could strengthen their authority by demonstrating political diversity. The National Academies, as well as many government agencies, already try to balance representation from the academic, non-governmental and private sectors on many science advisory panels; it would be only a small step to be equally explicit about ideological or political diversity. Such information could be given voluntarily.

To connect scientific advice to bipartisanship would benefit political debate. Volatile issues, such as the regulation of environmental and public-health risks, often lead to accusations of ‘junk science’ from opposing sides. Politicians would find it more difficult to attack science endorsed by avowedly bipartisan groups of scientists, and more difficult to justify their policy preferences by scientific claims that were contradicted by bipartisan panels.

Go here to read the rest.  The comments to the article are instructive and reveal the battle going on within the scientific community regarding partisanship:


Many scientists are isolated from contemporary politics because they work at monocultural universities. Thus they can make factual errors such as thinking that all Republicans are religious fanatics that deny evolution. The fact that a member of the Board of Directors of the American Geophysical Union wrote a book with the title The Republican War on Science gives an indication of how far science has sunk into mindless partisanship. For the record there is extensive science that is disliked and suppressed by the left. For example the fact that the ban on DDT was misinformed as the World Health Organization has indicated by its approval of the use of DDT. We have the example of distinguished Taiwanese scientists begging that attention be paid to the inadvertent experiment of exposure of thousands of persons to radiation by accidental contamination of reinforcing bars with cobalt 60. That inadvertent experiment seemed to show that the risks of radiation have been vastly overstated, and that, of course, threatens the radiation hysteria industry.

The worst example of partisan use of science is the global warming industry and the allied green energy industries. There seems to be no limit to how deep these people will sink in exaggerating the science and proposing fantastic and impractical solutions that won’t work even according to their own theories.


So according to most posters here, Dan Sarewitz misses the point that Republicans are anti-science and Democratic policies are highly rational reflections of the best scientific thought. How interesting. Little wonder, then, that science is perceived as a Democratic interest group when such supporters of science have so little self awareness.

The real point is this–scientists have allowed their public discussions of science to be colored by their political views without even realizing it. What they choose to talk about, emphasize, and even study are increasingly dominated by their political views. And they mistakenly associate particular scientific results with specific policies, even when other policies are equally compatible with the science.

To see how misguided scientists have become on this issue, consider the 2012 Nobel laureate  letter endorsing Obama. Take a look at the statements on science and issues of science and technology put out by both campaigns.  The Romney platform is clear, well thought out, and shows a well-integrated understanding of science. On what basis, then, can it be said that “Mitt Romney, would ‘devastate a long tradition of support for public research and investment in science’.?” This statement was pure demagoguery.



Of course this article is misguided.  Saying that scientists tend to be liberals and democrats is totally right.  It is like saying that the police and the military tend to be conservative and republican.  But it’s totally logical and there’s no reason to be worried about that.  Science is the realm of doubt, of challenging established truths, of constant progress towards better knowledge of reality.  It is the antithesis of conservatism, and conservatives are overwhelmingly republicans.  If you’re a scientist, you cannot endorse candidates who prefer dogmas to evidence.  Therefore science in general cannot and should not be bipartisan in the current state of American politics.



It would seem much easier to try to keep the more fanatical elements in the Republican party out of Congress than to try to educate them once they are there. If anything, I think scientists have a  public duty to become vastly more partisan and politically engaged- to expose fraud and ignorance wherever they find it- if they find it more often among Republicans it is not automatically a failing of theirs… You cannot compromise with fanatics without compromising your principles.


As somebody who recently got his PhD in engineering from one of America’s top universities, I wholeheartedly agree with the ideas expressed here. The problem is that things are getting worse, not better, in the sense that the scientific endeavor is becoming increasingly a liberal/Democratic one as studies on party registration by professors at top universities shows. Right now scientists that dare to register as republicans are and endangered species in American campuses. In 20/30 years from now when those who remain retire, they will be non existent. That is not to say that there will not be people with conservative leanings getting degrees even PhDs in science/engineering. However, they are increasingly being pushed away from staying in academia by a community that is hostile to those who do not conform to liberal orthodoxy on everything outside science itself. When a recent PhD graduate considers his/her career options and has the choice between going for a path in which his ideas outside the lab will be continuously trashed (academia) vs one in which political leanings are less of a problem (industry), it is clear which of the two is more appealing. Some would say that this is not a problem at all. It is, if one agrees with the point of view that good scientific ideas are independent of one’s political views. Some of the scientific geniuses in the XX-th century held political views that would have been rejected by today’s academic establishment. I am thinking about people like John Von Neumann or Kurt Godel, both of whom were supporters of Eisenhower (and God believers, something that is anathema in many of today’s academic circles). So if science is promoting the Dawkins of the world (whose scientific contributions are very mediocre and will be forgotten as soon as he is dead) and pushing away the John Von Neumanns or Kurt Godels of the world, we definitely have a problem.


As a strong conservative (Libertarian), female scientist, I’ve found  that I don’t stand a chance amongst the rest of my liberal-minded peers.  There is constant pressure to either change my ideologies or a closed-minded assumption that I must not be a “real” scientist since I don’t share liberal ideals. I’m not using my real name here on the off-chance that someone on my tenure committee discovers that I lean Republican.

I’m certain that there are other conservative scientists out there that are equally in hiding. Coming from this background, I can fully understand why US citizens no longer trust scientists nor want to support science. On this social level, we don’t represent the entirety of the US people and their concerns.


As a Republican, I find some of the comments on this article down right offensive.  First, the Republican party is NOT dominated by people who deny evolution.  That is nonsense.  It is part of the stereotyping that many liberal scientists do that is referred to by a few of the dissenting voices above.  Second, calling someone a “denialist” is not scientific.  Worse, it is anti-science.  Many legitimate (i. e. having the degrees, experience and background in research) are skeptical about the so called ”fact” of anthropogenic global warming that threatens destruction of the earth.  Real scientists address scientific questions with scientific answers.  Real scientists understand (I hope) that science is not about voting or consensus. It is about evidence.  Computer programs can make predictions but they are just that, predictions. So far the major evidence for global catastrophe caused by man made global warming is computer models.   When the predictions don’t happen as those programs have predicted then, it seems to me, real scientists admit that their theories have not proven to be accurate.  That’s what the debate is about.  Part of the danger of government funding of science has been that it has apparently tempted some scientists to try to suppress disagreement and debate about matters which are not yet proven. If you actually read some of the so-called “climate gate” emails, then you saw proof that some people were trying to suppress dissent and prevent the publication of dissenting points of view. 

What this author does not point out is that 75 or so years ago, many “leading” scientists advocated eugenics, it was the progressive way, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/feb/17/eugenics-skeleton-rattles-loudest-closet-left When scientists  lend their  names to policies and programs that are really not about science they endanger the scientific principle.

And as for being anti-reality– which party pretends that an embryo is not a potential human being?  Which party pretends that a 32 week fetus is not capable of life on its own?  Yet I never hear such people called life deniers.

Science is a method for discovering facts, not a philosophy or a body of sacred dogma.  Unfortunately in the past few decades, with the politicization of academia, science has become infected with the virulent Leftism that has tainted all fields of study.  With this bastard ideology produced by the fusion of science and political advocacy, scientism, the prestige of science is kidnapped and used in political controversies to attempt to silence debate by an appeal to the authority of Science with a capital “S”.  Mix politics and science together and the result is usually junk science and bad politics.  Good science can give us facts that are useful in making political decisions, but science is not a substitute for morality, history, philosophy, statesmanship, religion and all of those other facets of the human condition that go into deciding where we stand on political questions.  A free society must ever be unafraid to ask questions and to promote free inquiry and free thought.  Ossified political orthodoxies, which exist on most campuses, are ever at war with the fearless pursuit of truth.






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Donald R. McClarey (1546 Posts)

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