Tuesday, November 12, 2013
In his first State of the Union Address in 1790, George Washington told Congress, “There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of science and literature.” He went on to call science “essential” to our nation. Two hundred and twenty years later, in his first inaugural address, Barack Obama vowed to “restore science to its rightful place.”
The president’s insinuation plays into the common perception in the media, electorate, and research community that Republicans are “anti-science.” I encountered that sentiment routinely in nearly a decade working for Republicans on Capitol Hill, and it has become more commonplace in the broader political discussion. Frequent offenders include Slate’s Phil Plait, Mother Jones’ Chris Mooney, HBO’s Bill Maher, a host of contributors at The Huffington Post, and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews.
I’m the first to admit that there are elected Republicans with a terrible understanding of science—Representative Paul Broun of Georgia, an M.D. who claims evolution and the Big Bang are “lies straight from the pit of hell” is one rather obvious example—and many more with substantial room for improvement. But Republicans, conservatives, and the religious are no more uniquely “anti-science” than any other demographic or political group. It’s just that “anti-science” has been defined using a limited set of issues that make the right wing and religious look relatively worse. (As a politically centrist atheist, this claim is not meant to be self-serving.)
Republicans, and members of the traditionally Republican coalition like conservatives and the religious, are criticized for rejecting two main areas of science: evolution and global warming. But even those critiques are overblown. Believing in God is not the same as rejecting science, contrary to an all-too-frequent caricature propagated by the secular community. Members of all faiths have contributed to our collective scientific understanding, and Christians from Gregor Mendel to Francis Collins have been intellectual leaders in their fields. Collins, head of the Human Genome Project and an evangelical Christian, wrote a New York Times bestseller reconciling his faith with his understanding of evolution and genetics.
Numerically speaking, according to Gallup, only a marginally higher percentage of Republicans reject evolution completely than do Democrats. Yes, an embarrassing half of Republicans believe the earth is only 10,000 years old—but so do more than a third of Democrats. And a slightly higher percentage of Democrats believe God was the guiding factor in evolution than Republicans.
On global warming, conservative policy positions often seem to be conflated or confused with rejection of the consensus that the planet has been warming due to human carbon emissions. The climate trend over the last several hundred years is not one anybody credible disputes—despite the impression you might get from GOP presidential primary debates. Of the many Republican members of Congress I know personally, the vast majority do not reject the underlying science of global warming (though, embarrassingly, some still do). Even Senator Jim Inhofe, perhaps the green community’s greatest antagonist in Congress, explicitly endorses environmental regulation.
The catch: Conservatives believe many of the policies put forward to address the problem will lead to unacceptable levels of economic hardship. It’s not inherently anti-scientific to oppose cap and trade or carbon taxes. What most Republicans object to are policies that unilaterally make it more expensive in the United States to produce energy, grow food, and transport people and goods but are unlikely to make much long-term difference in the world’s climate, given that other major world economies emit more carbon than the United States or have much faster growth rates of carbon emissions (China, India, Russia, and Brazil all come to mind).
Full article: http://www.theatlant … cience-party/281219/