by Doctor Science
M.S. at the Economist talks about The lonely 6%: as Daniel Sarewitz discussed at Slate, the Pew Research Center found that while 23% of the general public identify as Republican, only 6% of scientists do. M.S. suggest three possible, testable hypothesis to explain this:
The first is that scientists are hostile towards Republicans, which scares young Republicans away from careers in science. The second is that Republicans are hostile towards science, and don't want to go into careers in science. The third is that young people who go into the sciences tend to end up becoming Democrats, due to factors inherent in the practice of science or to peer-group identification with other scientists.A month ago, Nils August Andresen posted a series at Frum Forum about why the educated young are shunning the GOP:
To simplify: Republicans have gone from having a clear advantage among top students in the decade following the Eisenhower administration, to being competitive under the Nixon and Ford administrations, and from being an energetic minority during Reagan and Bush Sr. to being almost eradicated today.The 20- or 30-point advantage the Democratic Party has among educated young people pretty much matches what the Pew Center found for scientists as a whole -- even though Pew's sample was drawn from AAAS members, who are mostly middle-aged or older.
while students have fled the Republican Party, they do not seem to have moved very far to the left. The Weathermen are long gone. Hippies, utopian Marxists, socialists, anarchists – groups that were prominent in the 1960s and 1970s – are marginal today. Rather, today’s best students identify as slightly to the left of center, policy-wise liberals who massively prefer the Democratic party.
Let me advance another hypothesis. Today’s top students are motivated less by enthusiasm for Democrats and much more by revulsion from Republicans. It’s not the students who have changed so much. It’s the Republicans.
I'm not going to say that I know for sure what drove this historical process, but I can talk about what it was like.
John Rogers talked about how he misses Republicans:
Remember Republicans? Sober men in suits, pipes, who'd nod thoughtfully over their latest tract on market-driven fiscal conservatism while grinding out the numbers on rocket science. Remember those serious-looking 1950's-1960's science guys in the movies -- Republican to a one.This is exactly what I remember, too, from the 60s and even early 70s, when I was growing up as Young Science Girl. We all *loved* the Space Program, for instance, and those people all looked conservative, not liberal: they wore white shirts and narrow ties while everyone else was busting out in tie-dye. They were *squares*, man.
They were the grown-ups. They were the realists. Sure they were a bummer, maaaaan, but on the way to La Revolution you need somebody to remember where you parked the car.
I think the first shift of scientists to the political left happened around April 22, 1970 -- the first Earth Day. After that, as I finished high school and went on to college, when I said I was studying "ecology" people made immediate, forceful assumptions (one way or the other) about my political views. I remember going to a panel discussion in the mid 70s about science and politics, science and religion, where the speakers agreed that "science is not politically on the right or left" -- and I know they were wrong, because I was an ecologist and that was a political label more than a scientific one, at that time.
My memory of the 70s and 80s is that Republican Party was *not* particularly anti-evolution at the time. There were discussions and debates about "Evolution and the Bible" and such, but they didn't have a particularly partisan character yet.
What I recall being much more significant were environmental issues. Although the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act were passed under Nixon, by the time the Reagan administration rolled into town the Republicans were pretty strongly on the side of pollution and extinction. Many of you are probably too young to remember Reagan's Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, but that Wikipedia article covers the high points. Basically, he was completely on the side of extractive industries (including forestry and mega-agriculture). He justified it with Christianism: God wants man to have "dominion" over the earth, and besides, Jesus was coming back any day now.
I'm going to edit down the historical treatise I found myself writing, and just say that one of the themes of science in the 1980s was a growing understanding of how human actions could have planet-level effects. DDT was banned in the 1960s because of its effects on particular organisms and, eventually, ecosystems. The 1973 discovery that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) could deplete the ozone layer was enormously more significant: we were seriously talking about change the chemistry of the planet's atmosphere. Many of the scientists who started looking at the issue were planetologists: the US and Soviet space programs were starting to pull in real information on the atmospheres of other planets, so we had something to compare Earth to. Carl Sagan was a planetologist, and he was one of the co-authors of the original Nuclear Winter paper. And one thing that made Nuclear Winter look plausible was the recently-proposed Alvarez Hypothesis for the extinction of the dinosaurs -- also a case of planet-wide devastation from a relatively limited event, a kind of cascading failure.
This setting made Reagan's proposed "Star Wars" Strategic Defense Initiative look especially foolish to the scientific community. I suspect that Republicans actually thought that scientists would get all enthusiastic about SDI for being technological solution to a huge problem -- but scientists were much more worried about the unintended consequences of such solutions, especially on the kind of scale Reagan was talking about.
And then in 1985, IIRC, this picture showed up on the cover of Nature:
and basically scared the crap out of the scientific community. The Montreal Protocol was signed only two years later -- by Ronald Reagan, among others. Was this was the last time a Republican administration took any planet-level environmental problem seriously?
Basically -- because even the short version is getting to be too long -- I think that in the 80s the Republican powers saw even the hardest of hard scientists, the physicists and geologists and NASA, take positions that impeded the core Republican value of Making Money. Then, once they stopped worrying about what a bunch of eggheads thought, they could turn up the music playing to a Christianist audience and be against evolution and the wrong sort of medical research. But the underlying drive, IMHO, was Republican resistance to the kind of planetary systems concerns that we currently lump under "climate change".
Once Al Gore became the unofficial spokesperson for concern about climate change, it was increasingly inevitable that Republicans would deny it on principle-- and that, somehow, that means "An Inconvenient Truth" will have a net negative real-world impact.
This is what we scientists call "wrong". Republicans were going to reject the idea of climate change regardless, for reasons that go back to the 1980s. In 2001, James Watt said:
Everything Cheney's saying, everything the president's saying - they're saying exactly what we were saying 20 years ago, precisely ... Twenty years later, it sounds like they've just dusted off the old work.In other words, to go back to M.S.'s testable hypotheses --
It's not that Republicans are *hostile* to Science, they grew apart, as couples so often do. They have different values, different needs ... and the more Republicans learn to brand themselves as the contrarian yet practical ones, the less they need Science. Or her friend Reality.