Scientific American published this article a few months back, coming out just before the election. Scientific American has never shrunk from engaging in politics, but this might well be their most political article yet, focusing on the ways in which many of the antiscience beliefs, mostly among conservatives, are affecting public policy. Their analysis is very detailed, and while it does not exactly spare democrats either, most of the article is about republicans. A few choice excerpts are presented below.
Yet despite its history and today's unprecedented riches from science, the U.S. has begun to slip off of its science foundation. Indeed, in this election cycle, some 236 years after Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, several major party contenders for political office took positions that can only be described as “antiscience”: against evolution, human-induced climate change, vaccines, stem cell research, and more. A former Republican governor even warned that his own political party was in danger of becoming “the antiscience party.”
Governor Romney's path to endorsement exemplifies the problem. “I don't speak for the scientific community, of course, but I believe the world is getting warmer,” Romney told voters in June 2011 at a town hall meeting after announcing his candidacy. “I can't prove that, but I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer, and number two, I believe that humans contribute to that.” Four days later radio commentator Rush Limbaugh blasted Romney on his show, saying, “Bye-bye nomination. Bye-bye nomination, another one down. We're in the midst here of discovering that this is all a hoax. The last year has established that the whole premise of man-made global warming is a hoax! And we still have presidential candidates who want to buy into it.
By October 2011 Romney had done an about-face. “My view is that we don't know what's causing climate change on this planet, and the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try and reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us,” he told an audience in Pittsburgh, then advocated for aggressive oil drilling. And on the day after the Republican National Convention, he tacked back toward his June 2011 position when he submitted his answers to ScienceDebate.org.
Antiscience reproductive politics surfaced again in August, this time in one of the most contested U.S. Senate races. Todd Akin, who is running in Missouri against Claire McCaskill, said that from what he understood from doctors, pregnancy from rape is extremely rare because “if it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Akin sits on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, which is responsible for much of the U.S. federal science enterprise, so he should be aware of what science actually says about key policy issues. In fact, studies suggest that women are perhaps twice as likely to become pregnant from rape, and, in any event, there is no biological mechanism to stop pregnancy in the case of rape. Akin's views are by no means unusual among abortion foes, who often seek to minimize what science says to politically justify a no-exception antiabortion stance, which has since become part of the 2012 national GOP platform.It is surprising, but in a good way, to see that Akin's comment is also being regarded not just as anti-women, but also as antiscience.
Next is the section on the history of antiscience, and how it became so powerful.
Industrial mishaps led to new health and environmental regulatory science. The growing restrictions drove the older industries in the chemical, petroleum and pharmaceutical fields to protect their business interests by opposing new regulations. Proponents of this view found themselves in a natural alliance with the burgeoning religious fundamentalists who opposed the teaching of evolution. Industrial money and religious foot soldiers soon formed a new basis for the Republican Party: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem,” President Ronald Reagan argued in his 1981 inaugural address. “Government is the problem.” This antiregulatory-antiscience alliance largely defines the political parties today and helps to explain why, according to a 2009 survey, nine out of 10 scientists who identified with a major political party said they were Democrats.And the article concludes with the following, which is very good advice.
This marriage of industrial money with fundamentalist values gave fundamentalism renewed power in the public debate, and efforts to oppose the teaching of evolution in public schools have returned in several states. Tennessee, South Dakota and Louisiana have all recently passed legislation that encourages unwarranted criticisms of evolution to be taught in the states' public schools. Evangelical state legislators and school board members mounted similar efforts this year in Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Texas and Alabama, and the Texas Republican Party platform opposes “the teaching of … critical thinking skills and similar programs that … have the purpose of challenging the student's fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.
In an age when science influences every aspect of life—from the most private intimacies of sex and reproduction to the most public collective challenges of climate change and the economy—and in a time when democracy has become the dominant form of government on the planet, it is important that the voters push elected officials and candidates of all parties to explicitly state their views on the major science questions facing the nation. By elevating these issues in the public dialogue, U.S. citizens gain a fighting chance of learning whether those who would lead them have the education, wisdom and courage necessary to govern in a science-driven century and to preserve democracy for the next generation.Please go read the entire article, since my excerpts barely do it justice. It rambles a bit, but is overall an excellent analysis of the problem.
One other article that is linked to is an analysis of Obama's and Romney's views on scientific matters. Even though the online article does not have it, the print version graded both candidates on their views. Surprisingly, Romney fared relatively well against Obama, although he was very poor on environmental and national health issues.
In the end, I would disagree slightly with the idea that conservatives and republicans are antiscience. Give them a new smart bomb or smart phone, and they are happy. Their real problem is that they hate science that forces them to reevaluate their world view. Evolution and climate change, as the two most obvious examples, and are fought and denied with every fiber of their being. The problem, though is that even though they might accept science which delivers their wants, it is not something that you can pick and choose. Accepting scientific research and discovery does not mean you have to like the results. But it is the necessary first step for dealing with the consequences.