The Danger of Making Science Political

“Many more scientists identify as Democrats than as Republicans, but threats to scientific thinking can come from any quarter. What must be preserved is the pursuit of science, away from irrational dogma.”

“Over the past few years, and particularly in the past few months, there seems to be a growing gulf between U.S Republicans and science. Indeed, by some polls only 6 percent of scientists are Republican, and in the recent U.S. Presidential election, 68 science Nobel Prize winners endorsed the Democratic nominee Barack Obama over the Republican candidate Mitt Romney. As a scientist myself, this provokes the question: What are the reasons for this apparent tilt? Some of this unease might be because of the feeling that the Republicans might cut federal science spending.” [The Atlantic]

7 thoughts on “The Danger of Making Science Political”

  1. Science is all about having fun and finding things out — ideally, at somebody else’s expense. If that somebody else informs you that you can’t have that particular kind of fun and that things you want to find out are off-limits to you (for exampe, you can’t have fun making Neanderthal babies), you really have to look for another sponsor. Or if you comply, stop calling yourself a scientist. Compliance of any sort is poison to science.

    Privately funded scientists working for companies like Monsanto, Dow, Cargill, BASF — can name a hundred — are in a much better position. They can both have fun and be useful — and even have a career; the only problem is, they can’t talk. Not a happy world there either.

  2. How about this innocent explaination. Ideals.
    You have a smart person who is good at math and science. He has two main paths to choose from: science or engineering. Scientists are predominantly liberal while engineers are overwhelmingly conservative (to the point that the majority of engineering professors identify as conservatives, unique in academia). Why is this?

    The researcher in his lab is a very liberal ideal.
    The engineer in his factory is a very conservative ideal.

    Thus, liberals chose to be scientists and conservatives choose to be engineers. Engineers flock to conservative, industrial cities, and scientists flock to liberal havens of college towns, exacerbating their differences with positive reinforcement as they raise the next generation who share the political views and career goals of their parents.

    See, no conspiracy necessary.

  3. There may be a lot of reasons that so many scientists identify as “liberal” or “Democrat” and the comments above touch on some.
    I’ll posit that most scientists are associated with higher education and most of the faculty in higher education are liberals. In order to be socially welcome, scientists associated with universities may tend to change first their conversation and then their views to conform to their peer group. It happens in a lot of settings. Perhaps a desire for sexual contact comes in.
    I’m a computer developer and teacher. I’m also religious and I have a strong science background although I’m not a scientist or engineer. I’m a libertarian-conservative in my views and voting. There’s no real contradiction between spirituality and science, although there are some issues between specific religious teachings and some science findings. When those conflicts occur, I tend to land on the science and view the doctrine as a way of teaching faith rather than science. Yes, I’m thinking of evolution first and foremost.

  4. Several conservative pundits have observed that US politics and the government are placing the state at the center of life. I would venture that most scientists, deriving their education, funding and jobs directly or indirectly from government, already see the state at the center of their life and see enormous opportunity for their growth in service to a state. What they don’t see makes them functionaries, not scientists.

  5. Republicans tend to exert a strong repulsive force on scientists either because they are predominantly religious themselves or are friendly to religious voters. Religion is disgusting to a scientist. My reading of such a disparity in political preference among scientists is that they prefer to pick “the lesser evil”, rather than completely withdraw themselves from politics. Which I wish they did.

  6. Political positions being adopted by scientists to protect their funding seems a plausible hypothesis indeed, since the same “principles for funding” exchange program that had successfully turned physicians into “state change agent” preachers (and likewise, state “social gospel” preachers into health advisors/ promoters) had already proven itself a rock-solid justification for state coercion – on which successive Big Gov’t’s led by any power-driven party could progressively build on their Politicization of Medicine home-base at the global level, as rent-seekers in the WHO’s Babylonian Tower; home to assorted “Health Promotion” and “Population Health” behaviour Control freaks.

    Who could forget the telltale spectacle that took place in the North Dakota Legislature back in 2003, when “the testimony from anti-tobacco groups that testified against the tobacco ban, including the North Dakota Medical Association, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, North Dakota Public Health Association and North Dakota Nurses Association” demonstrated that their War was actually on “sinner” Smokers rather than Tobacco as alleged – because “There’s no evidence banning tobacco would prevent and reduce tobacco use because no such approach has been implemented, the groups argued. The ban also could take away certain funding forthese groups for tobacco control programs.” (excerpted from a comment recently posted back to an Ontario, Canada-based webpage commentary here: )

    Any scientists who had previously failed to recognize that they and their profession would confront the same “next logical step” fate as physicians and their profession, who were previously coerced into state servitude or marginalized through the Politicization of Medicine, may need to catch up on the forewarnings they had missed too, pdq?

  7. I know a passel of scientists, and for all their brilliance, their politics are nearly childlike in simplicity and frustrating for that reason. Thankfully I don’t believe their political views affect what they do in the laboratory.

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