This morning I awoke safe and sound from the wrath of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene. Thankfully, things in my part of Philadelphia were quite fine, and getting back to my normal routine I checked my Twitter feed (see, that thing is useful!). I was pleasantly greeted by Paul Krugman's newest op-ed entitled "Republicans Against Science". Though it focuses on the anti-evolution and anti-climate change garble coming from the Republican candidates' mouths and was likely written before the storm, I find it's appearance in the NY Times quite prescient in light of our latest reminder of Mother Nature's power.
The anti-science trend of the modern day Republican party is a scary proposition to wrap one's head around. The Republican party is so extreme that it marginalizes a candidate (being Jon Huntsman, Jr., former Governor of Utah) who openly supports science and is afraid that Republicans will begin to be seen as the "anti-science party".
The proverbial Overton Window has shifted so far right that the frontrunner for the Republican nomination openly insinuates that climate scientists are engaging in some form of world-wide conspiracy, in order to keep their grant money coming.
From Krugman (emphasis mine):
Mr. Perry, the governor of Texas, recently made headlines by dismissing evolution as “just a theory,” one that has “got some gaps in it” — an observation that will come as news to the vast majority of biologists. But what really got peoples’ attention was what he said about climate change: “I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. And I think we are seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.”
That’s a remarkable statement — or maybe the right adjective is “vile.”
The second part of Mr. Perry’s statement is, as it happens, just false: the scientific consensus about man-made global warming — which includes 97 percent to 98 percent of researchers in the field, according to the National Academy of Sciences — is getting stronger, not weaker, as the evidence for climate change just keeps mounting.
Talk about sucking on the "teet" of government.
If you think that is bad, Krugman then points out what us liberals have known for a long time - that Republicans are adamantly opposed to evolution. Only 35% of self-identified Republicans believe in evolution. Of course, the percentage across all Americans is just as bad, as an overwhelming 78% of people believe that either God created humans in present form or evolved with God's guidance. This despite all of us hearing about antibiotic-resistant bacteria and all (i.e. - evolution in action - see footnote).
*OK, so this technically isn't evolution (i.e. - speciation), but natural selection is in play here at a rapid scale because of the very fast division rate of bacteria and the selective pressure to have immunity against anti-biotics).
*Further update - 2:45pm EST: Several friendly and helpful Kossacks posted right after one another mentioning that I don't need a footnote about evolution. One mentioned that speciation is just an end result of the process of evolution. Another gave this very poignant and appropriate metaphor.
Another way to think of it is that minor evolutionary changes amount to walking across the street, and major ones amount to walking across the continent. Both are possible, both use the same mechanisms, but one takes a lot longer and may involve a more convoluted path.
If you want the trifecta, how about Republicans' calls to cut the NOAA and FEMA budgets 30%? That's just a swell idea in light of earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes (oh my!) hitting across the globe (we're 2-for-3 on those, so I guess that ain't bad...). Of course, when God is the cause of all our natural disasters, who needs science to predict them??
No matter the specific area of science that Republicans are in opposition to, the most important portion of Krugman's article is his highlight of rampant Republican anti-intellectualism.
And the deepening anti-intellectualism of the political right, both within and beyond the G.O.P., extends far beyond the issue of climate change.
Republicans, teabaggers, and conservatives alike have long ago turned "intellectual" into an assault. The Republican authoritarian bullies of the world make fun of people who happen to enjoy the pursuit of knowledge and enjoy critical thinking, something that is clearly lacking among conservatives.
Thus, it's not surprising that only 6% of scientists identify as Republicans, with only 9% fitting defining themselves as conservatives. In stark contrast, 55% identify as Democrats, with 52% defining themselves a liberal.
Self-identifying Democrats and liberals, to quote the turd blossom Karl Rove himself, will always be a permanent majority within the science community. Unfortunately, the influence of scientists is minimal on Capitol Hill. It takes the strength of a nation to force our government to invest in science, and more importantly, view it with respect. With the full-court press against science we have coming from Republican candidates, not to mention the budget cutting porn coming from Republican and teabagger Congress members, I'm afraid for the future of science in America.
Not only will tangible budget cuts to the NIH, NSF, CDC occur, but the next generation of potential scientists will be so marginalized themselves during their adolescence and high school years (thank you Republican bullies), that it will take a strong willed person to deal with the verbal onslaught coming from peers, especially in the Bible Belt and other conservative strong holds.
Anti-intellectualism doesn't just hurt science policy, it hurts every policy. The lack of ability to think things through, consider all the options in a weighted fashion; to think and process 10 moves ahead like a chess grandmaster. It's why January 20, 2001 to January 20, 2009 were some of the worst years for America ever.
I posted Krugman's editorial on my Facebook account today, and received comments from a self-identifying conservative Republican scientist, and another Republican friend of mine. Apparently, I'm one of the most closed minded persons they know, and that if I see everything in black-and-white, well then "good luck being a scientist". Not only do I find those statements insulting, I find them ridiculous. What does me not compromising on my political beliefs have to do with being a critical thinking and open scientist? If you answered "nothing", then you win.
I'll leave you with one last thing. My same conservative friend chastised me for painting all Republicans as extreme, saying that I'm generalizing them. "The Republican party isn't extreme - some people are, not the entire party" is what he wrote me.
My response is this:
I completely disagree that the Republican party is not extreme. Maybe you're shielded a bit from the worst of the craziness being in NJ, home of the so-called Romney business Republicans. But in the Midwest and South, the crazy is full out open. And even if you're opinion that the Republican party isn't extreme, the candidates running for President certainly are, the result being that what is considering middle-ground is shifted further to the right.
If you don't think the Republican party is extreme, consider this: All candidates recently opposed a debt ceiling deal that would have a 10:1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases. Ten-to-one! Could Dwight Eisenhower, the man who the largest public works project in American history (highway system) is named after get nominated by his own party today? What about Mr. EPA founder Richard Nixon? Hell, what about Ronald Reagan, he of 7 middle class tax increases and 3X debt run-up during his 8 years! If THEY can't get nominated in today's Republican party, then hell yes, that's the definition of extreme.
I hope we will see President Obama defend against anti-science and anti-intellectual views during this 2012 campaign. I feel confident that he will.