Monday, July 13, 2009

Why Aren't Scientists Republican?

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press have released the findings of an extensive poll concerning the attitudes of scientists compared with the general public.

First, the public holds scientists in high regard (70%), just under members of the military (84%) and teachers (77%) and slightly above medical doctors (69%). Clergy (40%), lawyers (23%) and business executives (21%)are lower on the regard scale. Unfortunately, the regard for scientific achievement in the USA has declined from 47% in 1999 to 27% in 2009. Why would that be?

As far as partisan and ideological differences, 35% of the public are Democrats, 55% of scientists are Democrats. On the Republican side, 23% of the public are Republican and only 6% of scientists are Republican. Almost equal numbers of the public and scientists consider themselves independent (34 vs 32%). 87% of scientists consider themselves liberal or moderate and 9% consider themselves conservative.

The public may hold scientists in regard, but they still differ with scientists. 87% of scientist accept the theory of evolution while only 32% of the public accept the theory. When it comes to climate change due to human activity, 49% of the public accept this theory vs. 84% of scientists. But even those members of the public that disagree with scientists still hold scientists in relatively high regard (~64%).

So why do Republicans appear to hold science in low regard. To a small degree, I believe religious beliefs influence disregard for science. Stem cell research is obviously a huge issue as is evolution for many religious individuals. Obviously, those who hold to a literal interpretation of the bible are not going to accept that species evolved over billions of years. Scientists (33%) as a group are less likely to believe in God than the general public (84%).

But politics plays a much larger role in Republican disregard for science. In 2001, almost equal numbers of Republicans (37%) and Democrats (38%)supported increased funding for scientific research. In 2009 those figures dropped to 25% for Republicans and increased to 51% for Democrats with no change in the percentage of independents supporting science funding between those years. Who was in political power between those years? Was there any suppression of government science reports that the Republicans didn't like?

Climate change due to human activity is accepted by 30% of Republicans (only 21% of conservative Republicans) and 64% of Democrats (74% of liberal Democrats) and 49% of independents.

Why is there such a disconnect between science and Republicanism? It's not difficult to argue that the current Republican party is anti-intellectual. Look at the level of curiosity shown by G.W. Bush and Sarah Palin. They justify this lack of curiosity as being a characteristic of "just plain people" or the "little guy". These people are praised as "mavericks".

Most scientists are academics. Republicans distrust so-called left-wing academics. Republicans also rely on conservative "think tanks" to get their "scientific facts" which are almost always "alternative facts" based on a political position.

But to be really honest, I have no idea why few scientists are Republican - could it be genetic?


Anonymous said...

Thinking and reading are required. No one tells a scientists exactly what to believe and not believe.

PCS said...

Keep in mind that a good scientist doesn't "believe" or "disbelieve" in scientific evidence. You either accept or reject a thesis based on the evidence presented. You may not believe the investigator did the study properly or you may believe that the scientist is untrustworthy and that may influence how you interpret the scientific evidence.